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Health Check: when is ‘the flu’ really a cold?

Most people who think they have the flu, don’t. And some people who think they have a cold, really have the flu. So what is the difference between a cold and the flu? And does it matter? A cold is a mild…

Adults usually get around three colds per year. Sergio Alvarez, CC BY-NC-SA

Most people who think they have the flu, don’t. And some people who think they have a cold, really have the flu. So what is the difference between a cold and the flu? And does it matter?

A cold is a mild illness that resolves without treatment. It is a combination of some or all of the following: sneezing, a runny and then blocked nose, a sore or scratchy throat, cough, low-grade fever, headache and malaise. Doctors often refer to a cold as an upper respiratory tract infection or URTI (pronounced er-tee). They are very common – on average, you can expect three per year.

There are at least 200 different viral subtypes that cause colds – the commonest by far are rhinoviruses which are responsible for at least 40%; others include coronaviruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), metapneumovirus and parainfluenza viruses.

Following a cold, the small airways in the lungs become “hyper-reactive”. This can trigger an asthma attack and may result in the so-called “post-viral cough” that lasts for weeks. (In this setting, whooping cough should also be considered).

A cold may be complicated by an ear infection and sinusitis – both of which are usually viral and do not require antibiotics.

By definition, “the flu” is an illness caused by an influenza virus. True flu is much less common than a cold and can be a more severe disease – the nasal symptoms are absent but sore throat may be present. You’re likely to be much sicker and have high fever, chills, shaking, severe muscle aches, malaise, headache and a cough.

Influenza is a much more serious virus. Shutterstock

Influenza may progress to pneumonia and, in the elderly and those with particular chronic conditions, the risk of death is substantial. When a pandemic strain of influenza appears, the mortality in otherwise healthy people may be significant.

The problem is that many people who have some or all of the symptoms of influenza are not infected with an influenza virus but rather with one of the cold viruses – we call these illnesses “flu-like”. Many people who thought they had influenza in the past will have just had a severe cold (sometimes referred to by female partners as “man flu”).

Occasionally, someone with symptoms of a cold will actually be infected with an influenza virus. To add even more complexity, studies of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic show that the majority of people who were infected had no symptoms.

It is not easy to identify the cause of your cold or flu-like illness. Current diagnostic testing is usually limited to patients who require hospital admission. And even then, we don’t find a definitive answer in most people.

Most colds and flus are transmitted by touching the nasal secretions of an infected person and then touching your own nose or eye. The incubation period is usually one to three days and you are most infectious for about five days from the onset of symptoms.

Flu Attack! How a Virus Invades Your Body

Frequent hand hygiene (washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub) will reduce your risk of infection. Masks, a common sight in Asia, have been shown to be useless at preventing transmission.

The typical cold lasts between three and ten days but 25% persist for more than ten days. The persistence of symptoms often results in people inappropriately seeking antibiotics from their doctor.

You can treat the symptoms of a cold with nasal decongestants and drugs such as aspirin and paracetamol but none shorten the infection.

There are countless unproven claims for herbs, vitamins and minerals in the treatment of colds. In a salutary lesson that “natural” is not always safer, the US Food and Drug Administration in 2009 warned against the use of zinc-containing products in nasal sprays, including homeopathic preparations, because they were associated with a risk of permanent loss of smell.

The 2014 flu vaccine protects against three strains, including H1N1-like strain. Daniel Paquet, CC BY

There is no vaccine for the common cold – it is impossible to make one that can cover so many different viruses. Influenza has a seasonal vaccine that targets the most common subtypes circulating in the community but it is not 100% protective.

The antiviral drugs that work against influenza – Relenza (zanamivir) and Tamiflu (oseltamivir) – reduce the duration of symptoms by just over a day on average.

So, most of us are wrong when we think we have the flu. But if you were to tell the boss that your recent absence was due to “acute coryzal rhinopharyngitis”, you may get more sympathy than by just giving her the cold facts.

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74 Comments sorted by

  1. Neville Mattick
    Neville Mattick is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Grazier: ALP Member at A 4th Generation Grazing Station

    Aha; As I thought, endless people report "oh I have Influenza" when really they are feeling low, have symptoms but seem to function.

    What I thought was Influenza is a serious condition with a lot of symptoms usually requiring at least two days of total bed rest.

    I can only recall having a 'cold' once in the last two years, yet at least two events in that time requiring bed rest, maybe that is because of the annual Influenza vaccination.

    Very interesting - thank you.

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    1. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Neville Mattick

      Neville, my wife worked for a large drug company and they had a promotion to sell Influenza innoculations about March each year, and another in late winter to get rid of unsold stock. Apparently there are many types of flue and the innoculations only cover one expected strain for that season. Buyer beware!

      As far as I am aware I have never contracted inflenza in my life, just colds and I am 69. Always wear a singlet to keep your torso warm and eat good food seems to be the answer.

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    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      Terry Reynolds - the incidence of influenza is greatly affected by exposure. That's why health care workers and people living in residential aged care are vulnerable. It's not all about having a ''super'' immune system or diet. If you're not exposed to influenza virus, you won't catch it.

      Just to trade anecdotes - I work in acute health care, don't wear a singlet, and cant remember last time I had flu. I eat good food, don't always keep my torso warm but I do get vaccinated for work.

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    3. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, my father made us wear a singlet so our body temparture did not suddenly fall with a change of atmospheric temperature, which he said only take a moment and on comes a cold.

      I worked in banking for over 30 years and was facing the public over a tellers counter, enquiry counter, a desk and numerous other staff. No flue!

      I find I cannot sleep with out a singlet or rarely withourt pyjamas as I get cold - we rollover all night and each time cold air rushes under the blankets. We are all different!

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    4. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      I don't think though that it has much to do with whether or not you catch colds.

      I think that colds spread more easily in cold weather because of the closed and fuggy rooms -- not because one is cold.

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  2. Blair Donaldson
    Blair Donaldson is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Researcher & Skeptic

    The thing that really concerns me is the overprescription of antibiotics. During the course of their training, are doctors told about the negative side effects of overprescribing antibiotics?

    I recall a time when "the cold" was the primary cause of sniffles and coughs but nowadays it seems "the flu" has superseded the former. Maybe influence is more prevalent these days because of our larger population and more frequent travel? It's a pity there is not a simple test to easily distinguish between the two, in part to put people's minds at rest.

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    1. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Yes, it is emphasised in doctor training that antibiotics are usually inappropriate for viral infections. The exceptions are for young, elderly or other people who are at high risk of secondary bacterial infections as a result of viral infections, when antibiotics may be given either prophylacticly, or to combat a bacterial infection that has taken hold as a result of the initial viral infection

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    2. Blair Donaldson
      Blair Donaldson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Researcher & Skeptic

      In reply to Ian Musgrave

      Thanks Ian. It's a pity so many people don't know the difference between bacteria and viruses and why antibiotics are no good for combating the latter. Unfortunately the general public think that antibiotics are a constant and reliable method for combating just about any illness and have no idea that antibiotic resistance is a real problem.

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    3. Per Hallström

      IT guy

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Well, people in general knowing the difference is one thing, but doctors?

      More than one doctor have offered antibiotics, "if I want it", after telling me that what I have is most likely not a bacterial infection and that it should resolve itself. "Will it help?" – "No, probably not, but I can prescribe it if you want."

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    4. John McCormick

      Clinical Nurse Educator

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      A lot of the time GPs give antibiotics to people with viral infections otherwise they will complain that the doctor 'did nothing for them' and 'didn't care'. Unfortunately lots of people 'know' what is wrong with them and what they need to get better. It's probably one of the reasons for the rise in alt med- who ever heard of a practitioner of magic medicine telling a client that they just needed to go home to bed and take plenty of fluids, and paracetamol as required un til they got through the symptoms. Alt med promises quick cures and gives lots of sympathy. Sympathy works wonders when you are feeling under the weather.

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    5. Blair Donaldson
      Blair Donaldson is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Researcher & Skeptic

      In reply to John McCormick

      Yes, the price we pay for the era of the demanded instant fix. I'm glad I'm not a doctor but I do wonder if they really need to inform patients exactly why antibiotics don't work on viruses and that a headache, runny nose, coughs etc are part and parcel of having a cold.

      I guess it's not hard to understand some people turning to pretend-Med and the miraculous efficacy of a sugar tablet when their coldhearted GP says there is sweet FA he can do for their cold.

      Do nothing and the cold will be gone in a fortnight, take alt-med and it will be gone in two weeks. Easy choice really.

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    6. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Per Hallström

      i once had the flu all weekend & still going strong monday. as i needed a medical certificate for work, i went to the local clinic. i told the doctor i had had severe flu and had not been able to hold down food for three days. so, having told him i had been vomiting food all weekend, he prescribed for me a particular antibiotic that requires to be administered three times a days with meals. this to a patient who had told him he could not eat at all and had vomited up food all weekend. i got the med. cert. but i lost my confidence in the local medical clinic! honest to god, i paid money to a guy in order for him to prescribe something that might have seriously hurt me had i taken it. -a.v.

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    7. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      We have a local Doc with a sign on his door -- Do not enter if you have a cold!

      The hospital has a similar sign.

      One trouble is though with work-places that demand a doctors certificate to take a day off. :-(

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    8. D. Weston Allen

      Medical Practitioner

      In reply to Blair Donaldson

      Doctors prescribe antibiotics for three reasons: 1. Patients expect them because the previous GP prescribed them and they 'worked'! 2. It is far quicker to write a script than take a good history, do a proper exam (to rule out a bacterial infection) and explain to the patient why antibiotics won't work. 3. Many doctors think the antibiotic might prevent a secondary bacterial infection.
      Large studies have shown you are actually MORE likely to get such an infection - due to a drug-resistant bug…

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    9. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to John McCormick

      > A lot of the time GPs give antibiotics to people with viral infections otherwise they will complain that the doctor 'did nothing for them' >

      In this case, then why bother with trained doctors at all! Let people diagnose and treat thmselves! :-(

      (Or in other words the ******* doctor should know ******* better.)

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    1. Alice Gorman

      Lecturer at Flinders University

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      And there's a little more social background to the term as well - typically, 'man flu' is suffered by a bloke who is not very sympathetic to his female partner's illness, but when they have a much less severe illness, require their female partner to look after them to an excessive degree. So it's kind of about lack of empathy as well as overreacting.

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    2. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      >The syndrome “man flu” does not refer to a severe cold, but to a severe reaction to a mild cold.>

      I like it!! :-)

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  3. Roland Howard

    Infrastructure Designer

    So, when if ever is sick leave appropriate for an URTI?

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Roland Howard

      When is sick leave appropriate for an URTI? When you're likely to spread it to others.

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    2. Roland Howard

      Infrastructure Designer

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Agree. Next man-flu, I shall stay home, and rise above the comments.

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  4. Henry Verberne

    Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

    I have a flu shot annually and over the last fifteen years have never had the flu (as defined in this article).

    I regularly encounter people who declare they never have a flu shot as "I became ill soon after the injection."

    Seems a case of post hoc ergo prompter hoc?

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  5. Tim Thornton

    Retired Dairy Farmer

    Frank, if these common ailments are caused by virus's why do most GP"s prescribe a 10 day course of 4 antibiotic pills / day ??

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  6. Brian Myerson

    Director of not for profit organisation

    Frank, thank you for your most useful article. I was under the impression that one starts to be infectious approximately a day before the onset of symptoms. I was also under the impression that colds are transmitted by breathing in the expressed air from someone suffering from a cold.
    I would so appreciate your comments on this.
    Thank you.

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    1. David Maddern

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Brian Myerson

      Colds are spread principally by hand to mouth. This has been proved in submarines. There is a three day incubation period and it is possible to track back to the infective event. Once I tracked it back to a cup of tea given to me in a hospital, and I was building a house away in the hinterland of Hobart and away from other vectors.

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  7. Els Bakker-Koomen

    logged in via Facebook

    I have not had a major cold, and can't remember the last time I had flue.. My strategy is to use the "unproven claims" section! As soon as a cold thinks of coming my way, I take extra doses of Echinacea and other herbals to boost the immune system. These supplements are "practitioners only" from my naturopath. This includes a year when people around me at work were dropping like flies with major flue, including my husband.
    Luck? Maybe, but I think I will keep using my "unproven" method.

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Els Bakker-Koomen

      Els - do you work in health care or residential aged care, or in a primary school?

      A lot of flu risk depends on exposure.

      There is no evidence for ''Echinacea and other herbals to boost the immune system''.

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    2. Garry Claridge

      Systems Analyst

      In reply to Els Bakker-Koomen

      Re: "... high fever for days, sore throat, sneezing, runny nose etc etc."
      Sound like the symptoms of influenza to me. So, is "major" flu a case-in-point of the article?

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  8. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    I find the best treatment for a cold with a sore throat, blocked nostrals, flem etc or hay fever is to just go to your local supermarket and buy a bottle of Horseradish cream for about $2.20 a small jar. You dip a teaspoon in and just have say a quarter of a teaspoon and put it into your mouth. You will get a rush as horeradish has quite a bite if you are not used to it, but you will find if you do this, your nostrals will enlarge instantly making it easier to breathe and gain instant relief for…

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    1. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      the astringent in horseradish is allyl isothiocyanate which is both an irritatant and mildly toxic. You are better off with less toxic conventional medicines

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    2. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Ian Musgrave

      Ian, I find that horeradish cream is the sole answer for me after having suffered hay fever for almost 68 years.

      Perhaps there is a fortune to be made by someone giving people natural products that work.

      Presumably Dr Oz with a world wide audience of hundreds of millions would have checked to the safety of of the remedy first.

      Readers shoud try it for themselves, before wasting a fortune at a pharmacy and burdening the Medicare system.

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  9. Bethwyn Joy

    Educator

    Thank you Frank for a clear and informative article. Could you please comment on the reasonably common perception that someone gets a small dose of flu following a flu vaccination? I thought it was impossible but have become quite ill within 24 hours of the flu jab this year. Con incidence?

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  10. Will Sawyer

    Family Medicine physician at Sharonville Family Medicine

    Sounds like Els does not touch the T Zone (mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth) the only portal of entry into the human body for all respiratory viruses. So,everyone should follow Els' lead to stay well! Visit www.henrythehand.org for more information to share with others.

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    1. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Will Sawyer

      > Visit www.henrythehand.org for more information to share with others.

      not bad advicd -- but actually quite impossible to implement.

      Unless I suppose one gets one's hands amputated!

      Or I suppose our head amputated?

      Good Grief how can one suck one's thumb or bite one's nails without putting fingers in your mouth. How can one lick off dripped ice-cream?

      But quite seriously I rememebr my Mum used to lick our eyes for us if we got something in them -- and none of us went blind or caught colds from that!

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  11. Evelyn Haskins

    retired

    In my life time I have seen people increasingly describing the 'common cold' as "the flu".

    I suspect that it gets them the day off work!

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  12. Laurie Forde

    Retired Business Owner

    Most colds and flu occur when the body temperature drops for more than 5 minutes. eg when we get a chill. That's why prior to the antibiotics era all kids were called in "out of the night air" and people wore jackets as the day cooled.
    It's not rocket science, but the doctors won't tell you because it would severely affect their cash flow.

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    1. Benison O'Reilly

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Laurie Forde

      As the article says, colds and flu are caused by viruses, not by getting cold.

      http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/07/health/upwave-colds/

      The old myth about doctors not treating conditions properly so they can line their pockets is very tedious. My doctor husband has enough to deal with with diabetes and depression etc and would be quite happy not to see otherwise healthy adults with colds. Babies and small children are the exception, as their colds can rapidly deteriorate into pneumonia. He doesn't prescribe antibiotics for colds either.

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    2. Trevor McGrath

      uneducated twit

      In reply to Benison O'Reilly

      cnn like fox news is not a credible reference, but I'm glad that your old man knows that If you can walk into the surgery then you can walk out with out a Rx for cold or Flu. 2 days in bed is what would most benefit most people, and what most people really need. I can sell them crap to stop their nose from running or stop them coughing, all over the counter stuff. But with most people now on day rates with no sick pay, they just have to go to work, so we help as best we can. In my opinion neither should be done... you need to get of the crap out, not keep it in and go to bed for a couple of days. Hot rum and butter as the old timers will tell you, works a treat (sorry no reference). Cheers

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  13. Chris Colenso-Dunne

    logged in via email @hushmail.com

    In mathematics and physics, defining one's terms is crucial to avoiding misunderstanding. In medicine, it is unfortunate that all too often there is a lack of the same rigour.

    In part, the current online OED entry for ‘antibiotic’ used as a noun states:

    B.n.
    a. An antibiotic substance: one of a class of substances produced by living organisms and capable of destroying or inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms; spec. any of these substances used for therapeutic purposes. Also used of synthetic…

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    1. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Chris Colenso-Dunne

      Ah, the joys of physicists telling biologists what to do
      http://xkcd.com/793/
      Sadly, biology is a thing of fuzzy boundaries, and antibiotics is a perfectly good term for things that kill organisms as diverse as bacteria, mycoplasmas and archebacteria.
      Antibiotics disrupt cell wall synthesis, or protein replication at the bacterial ribosome, or things like folate synthesis, or DNA gyrase, all things viruses do not have (gallons of ink and millions of pixels have been spilled over whether parasitic…

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    2. Ian Musgrave

      Senior lecturer in Pharmacology at University of Adelaide

      In reply to Ian Musgrave

      Mind you if we DID have an anti-biotic that worked as well as relenza or tamiflu of the flu virus (ie juts barely) we'd say don't use antibiotics for colds and flus EXCEPt this one.

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    3. Trevor McGrath

      uneducated twit

      In reply to Ian Musgrave

      Tamiflu... May be a waste of money? ... Only reduces symptoms by a couple of days. Have not seen a Rx for it for a long time. The company must have stopped giving free lunches or dinners as part of their educational programmes. Cheers

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  14. Linda Hughes

    disability consultant

    Can I ask two questions, is it appropriate to go to work if you have a cold? Can there be life threatening consequences from catching the common cold?

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    1. Trevor McGrath

      uneducated twit

      In reply to Linda Hughes

      some people die from a bee sting, to answer your question directly, those who are infirm or who have reduced immunity are more at risk if they acquire a disease that challenges their immune system of adverse outcomes. I feel like I should have referenced every second word ...with the good doctor around, no doubt I will be corrected Cheers

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    2. Will Sawyer

      Family Medicine physician at Sharonville Family Medicine

      In reply to Linda Hughes

      2nd attempt:
      Common cold elicits a "cytokine reaction" can cause a significant problem to our organs and vascular system. It is unpredictable how each of us will react. You will hear more how viral infections cause chronic diseases (auto-immune diesases); Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, ALS, MS ,etc. And even acute MI and sometimes stroke. So that is additionally why I am on a mission to teach EVERYONE "Do not touch the T Zone" (eyes, nose or mouth). If you need a training device wear a Healthshield to retrain yourself.

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  15. Thor Diesendorf

    Timber Recycler at Thor's Hammer

    Having lived in Japan and worn face masks when sick with a cold, I was interested to read that face masks "have been shown to be useless at preventing transmission."
    Had a look at the study referenced. It studied healthy hospital workers wearing masks to reduce their chances of catching colds. This is a group who would anyway practice very good hand washing hygiene so it seems obvious that the masks would have little extra effect.
    However, in Japan people mainly wear masks when they are already…

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    1. Trevor McGrath

      uneducated twit

      In reply to Thor Diesendorf

      Hi Thor. The mask will work if it is secure (air tight around your face) and filters particles smaller than the virus or bacteria that it is trying to protect you against. or you spreading to some one else...I sound like Monty Python .. the Minister for the bleeding obvious. If the whole dame community was not so immune compromised by the stresses of modern life and exposure to the vast array of modern chemicals now ubiquitous within the environment , there would not be this problem. Cheers

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    2. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Trevor McGrath

      Mr McGrath - you said ''the whole dame community'' but I suspect you intended to include men as well.

      There is no evidence that either gender is ''so immune compromised by the stresses of modern life and exposure to the vast array of modern chemicals now ubiquitous within the environment''

      Could you outline what evidence you think there is for the community being ''so immune compromised'', and how you propose ''modern chemicals'' would cause this?

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    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      > Mr McGrath - you said ''the whole dame community'' >

      I dunno Sue, I assumed he was talking to Dame Edna and friends :-)

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  16. Robert Molyneux

    Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

    "Masks, a common sight in Asia, have been shown to be useless at preventing transmission.".
    I have had an interest in this since being told by an NHM&RC person many moons ago that the reason the Japanese wear masks is that it is considered impolite to cough in someone's face.
    Their health outcomes are near the best in the world, although of course other factors than wearing masks apply.
    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html
    The link posted is actually very inconclusive. I am puzzled why beasties that we breath in and out all the time should not be minimised by masks, but are affected by hand washing. And if it is true that they are transferred from our hands touching our noses or eyes, why would masks not prevent transmission to the nose?

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      The effect of masks of various types was studied intensively during the last couple of viral pandemics.

      The Journal of Infectious Diseases carried the following article following the H1N1 pandemic in 2009: ''Unmasking the Confusion of Respiratory Protection to Prevent Influenza-Like Illness in Crowded Community Settings''

      They emphasised the importance of hand hygiene, but also reviewed the research on face masks:
      ''It is generally accepted that influenza spreads primarily via large droplets…

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    2. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Hi Sue,
      I assume that "attack rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza was not different between those who wore facemasks and those who wore N95 respirators as respiratory protection (23.6% vs 22.9%, respectively).'' means that masks and respirators are equally effective. The option of not wearing any sort of mask by health workers at risk of infection was not examined for obvious reasons(?)
      I am puzzled by the idea that ordinary people, not health workers, would use their hands to touch the noses…

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    3. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      > In summary, it appears that the two main modes of transmission are droplet through coughing/sneezing, and hands contaminated with droplets >

      Yp. That's as I understood it.

      I am appalled by the common advice though to cover your nose/face when you sneeze or cough. This of course catches ALL you germs to be passed on to others through everything you touch
      :-(

      If you MUST go ot with a cold, then at least sneeze into your own armpit -- most people don't tough others with tht part o their anatomy :-)

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    4. Evelyn Haskins

      retired

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      > I am puzzled by the idea that ordinary people, not health workers, would use their hands to touch the noses…>

      Robert, I can only assume that you've never had kids.

      Nose pickers and thumb suckers and touchers of everything :-(

      Just THINK of the stuff you can pick up from the Supermarket trolley handle-bar. Never mind the check-out chick who blows her runny nose with a much-used tissue, then continues to pick up every item of your shopping :-(

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    5. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Evelyn Haskins

      Hi Evelyn,
      I toilet trained my daughters! Enough said. And I must confess to the occasional meditative internal nose scratch.
      I accept that our hands are covered with all sorts of beasties. I am just puzzled about how the beasties get *** into *** our bodies. If I were a wee beasty, I would much prefer being parachuted in via a sneeze than having to climb across miles of skin with only my poor weak flagella (if indeed I had any) to move me.

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    6. Will Sawyer

      Family Medicine physician at Sharonville Family Medicine

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      Sue and Robert,
      I believe a "Healthshield" covering your eyes, nose and mouth as a training device will help improve results over just the face mask in that study, as the eyes are a wonderful entry into the human body for all respiratory viruses.
      So let's get more people to practice this behavior (4th Principle of Hand Awareness) and there will be no pandemic or seasonal flu either.

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    7. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      Hi, Robert,

      Yes - I understood it to mean that N95 respirators were no more effective than face masks. Previous work has already shown the value of mask vs no mask.

      Hand washing and sneezing/coughing into the bend of one's elbow are effective strategies at home. People tend to assume that a virus always spreads through the family, but it can be contained with some caution (also not sharing cups and cutlery etc).

      I'm not sure what you mean in the last para. Respiratory viruses have to find their way into the nose of mouth somehow - whether through droplet spray or touch. Breaks on skin a more a problem for transmission of blood-borne viruses like Hep B - and more commonly from patient to health care worker than vice versa.

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    8. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      Hi, Robert - now I get what you are asking.

      Viruses can't cross skin by their own efforts - they can only be carried in respiratory secretions (aka snot). They can either be carried there are directly inhaled by droplets in a cough or sneeze, or placed at the mouth or nose by touch.

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    9. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Hi Sue,
      Will posted that "the eyes are a wonderful entry into the human body for all respiratory viruses". Given the prevalence of Asians wearing spectacles (I don;t know the respective frequencies) maybe this is the key - spectacles / eye protection more than nose and mouth covers.

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    10. Will Sawyer

      Family Medicine physician at Sharonville Family Medicine

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      Good morning Robert and Sue,
      Watch people's hand behavior when you are in a meeting or at the theater. They touch the mucous membranes of their eyes more than they think. After all who wants to b sick with a cold or flu?

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  17. Greg Allan

    logged in via Facebook

    This article been re-titled "Man flu? When 'the flu' is really just a cold" when reproduced by the Sydney Morning Herald and other mainstream media. It includes no references to men specifically or to women for that matter.

    I wonder if the author is aware of this sexist representation of his work.

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  18. Leo Braun

    Conscientious Objector

    "There are countless unproven claims for herbs, vitamins and minerals in the treatment of colds"!

    • Although, generally speaking, colds are regarded as trivial every day ailments, they can lead to serious trouble. It is therefore a wise precaution never to neglect the common cold. If you can go to bed for a day or two, do so. You will benefit from the rest and your system will have a better chance of dealing with this temporary indisposition.

    Colds are, in effect, in effect a cleansing process…

    Read more