Winter is right around the corner and this year is expected to be colder than ever before. Stay ahead of your health and prepare for cold and flu season in advance. Exposure to cold weather can increase the risk of contracting a rhinovirus (a type of cold) and/or influenza (flu) as it transmits more quickly. But cold weather is not directly responsible for making people sick. 

The flu is very contagious and is often spread before people even realize they are sick. It takes about 1-2 days before symptoms become obvious. This is partially due to the fact that the flu and the common cold have similar symptoms. The difference is in the intensity of the symptoms. For example, a high temperature (fever) is rarely experienced with a cold but generally accompanies the flu. 

Adults remain infectious for approximately six days; children remain infectious longer - up to about ten days. This is a part of the problem, people spread viruses through 

What’s the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Both cold and flu are viral respiratory infections that affect the nose, throat, and lungs. The following chart was developed by and points out the specific differences, which will help you identify which virus is affecting your health.


Flu (Can be prevented. Get your flu shot.)

You may feel chills but fever is rare


Cough, chest discomfort (mild, may last a while)

Cough, chest discomfort (dry cough can be severe)

Body aches & pains (mild)

Body aches & pains (can be severe)

Tiredness (you can still do your daily activities)

Bedridden (you may feel extremely exhausted)

Headache (mild)

Headache (can be severe)

Sore throat

Sore throat

Stuffy, runny nose, sneezing

Stuffy, runny nose

Complications can include…

  • Lung infections
  • Throat infections
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Pre-existing health conditions getting worse (such as asthma)
  • Hospitalization
  • Death



Who is at Risk?

Did you know that the flu is one of the top ten leading causes of death in Canada? Each year in Canada, the flu causes an estimated 12,200 hospital stays and 3,500 deaths.

Although the flu can affect anyone, more serious complications occur in adults 65-years and older - particularly those who have other chronic illnesses. According to the Canadian Public Health Services, the health conditions that are most likely to reduce a person’s immune system and make it more difficult to fight off infections are: 

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Lung Disease
  • Anemia
  • Obesity
  • Kidney Disease
  • Neurologic Conditions
  • Children under 18 years being treated with acetylsalicylic acid.

The flu is also more likely to be contracted by:

  • People living in nursing homes, due to the shared spaces, or any other long-term care facility
  • Pregnant women, due to the changes in the body over the course of the pregnancy
  • Indigenous people, due to reduced availability to health care and increased occurrence of chronic health conditions.

Also, watch out for those who are most likely to spread the flu:

  • Caregivers
  • Childcare assistance
  • Healthcare workers
  • Family members
  • Those who are continuously in close proximity

For additional materials are available from the Public Health Services of Canada, click here.

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How to Prevent Getting the Flu

Becoming vaccinated is the most effective means of decreasing your chances of contracting the flu. Additionally, strengthening your immune system through diet, exercise, and other health-related ways. Overall, the ideal way to go about it is holistically, which means not one aspect alone can easily boost your immune system.  For example, reducing or eliminating a smoking habit can help keep lungs clear, yet if you don’t wash your hands systematically it is unlikely that the cessation of smoking alone can do the trick.

Viruses can be spread when someone with influenza sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth or handles doorknobs and other commonly touched surfaces without washing their hands. 

Harvard University provides this list of steps you can take to naturally keep your immune system healthy:

  • Don't smoke
  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Avoid infection by washing your hands frequently
  • Cooking meats thoroughly
  • Minimize stress

While this may seem like a tall order to accomplish before the cold winter months set in, the recommendations are meant to provide guidelines for overall illness prevention, and that includes influenza. 

Tips on How to Speed Up Recovery

When those who have the flu plod along and do not take action to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus, it increases the risks for others. A few common-sense ways you can speed up recovery of a cold or the flu: 

  • Drink plenty of clear fluids, hot or cold. Hot beverages, such as warm lemon water with honey, tend to assist in breaking up congestion.
  • Use a humidifier if severe coughing persists.
  • Nasal saline drops or spray can help reduce nasal congestion.
  • Gargle with salt water to alleviate a sore throat.
  • Use disinfectant on frequently used surfaces.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Uses tissues, rather than hands, for sneezing and coughing - then dispose of each tissue once used.
  • Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Not only will it help avoid spreading the virus, but sleep can also decrease the symptoms.

When to See Your Doctor

Not all colds and cases of flu are worth a trip to the doctor, as most often viruses have to run their course. Antibiotics cannot kill viruses because viruses are all so different. But since viruses can lead to more serious illnesses and conditions, it is smart to pay attention to a few reasons that may encourage you to consult with your doctor.

  • If it is difficult to swallow, you may have swollen glands that may cause something more serious.
  • If nasal discharge is green or yellow accompanied by facial pain or an extreme headache.
  • If your temperature is higher than 101 that lasts more than three days. Or if your temperature rises to 104, do not hesitate to seek treatment from a healthcare professional immediately.
  • If you have difficulty breathing or unusual chest pains.
  • If you have a cough that lasts more than three weeks and/or includes vomiting.
  • If you notice a skin rash that you did not have prior to contracting the cold or flu.

Although over-the-counter remedies can help with some of the normal symptoms, your doctor can make sure your cold or flu has not become more serious. 

Healthcare Solutions encourages readers to become educated on cold and flu prevention in advance!