Flu or cold? How to recognize, prevent and treat

HOUSTON – When you feel sick, the first step is to determine what you have: cold or flu?

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold.

People with colds suffer a runny or stuffy nose. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.

Since cold and flu viruses cannot be cured, for the most part, over-the-counter medications are your best bet to ease the aches, chills and fever.

The options may seem endless, but making sure a medication is safe is a good place to start.  

“If you're taking a medication you can have overlap, maybe it causes a spike in blood pressure, or maybe it can be harmful with something you're currently taking,” Angela Giallourakis, Cleveland Clinic pharmacist, said.

READ: What you need to know about flu season in Houston

She recommends sticking to cold medicines over allergy medicines.  

Both cold and allergy medicines contain antihistamines, but cold medicines are designed to dry up a runny nose.

Chest congestion and a cough can be treated with products that contain guaifenesin to clear up mucus.

WATCH: Haley Hernandez's flu-prevention tips

Products that contain pseudoephedrine are more effective, but require a photo ID. 

If you have vomiting, diarrhea and nauseous symptoms, you may have the flu, but those symptoms are more common in kids.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults rarely feel nauseous and experience vomiting since the flu is a respiratory disease and not in the stomach or intestine.

READ: Got the flu? Here's how to recover

Baylor College of Medicine physician assistant, Isabel Valdez, said a healthy practice to avoid the flu is good, long hand washing, but the best prevention is the flu vaccine no matter what some reports may say about its effectiveness.

“The concern we have for this year is that the flu shot is not protecting us as well as it could have… there are studies that are suggesting that is not matching the infections that are out there this season because of the mismatch we might not have the full on immunity that we could've had from years past but even a little bit of protection from the flu shot on the strains that are not there might actually still help,” Valdez said. “Your body will recognize the foreign object as soon as it is exposed to it. So, if your body recognizes the flu, something that resembles the flu virus even, if it's not the exact match but it still resembles the flu virus, it will help launch a defense against it. It launch is an arsenal to try and help your body.”

You can still get the flu even through all these precautions. You can even get it more than once a year, but the benefit of getting the vaccine is it can teach your body to protect against the virus and lessen the severity, possibly eliminating dangerous complications that could lead to hospitalizations or death.

If being hospitalized for the flu isn’t bad enough, in the hospital, there is currently an IV fluid shortage. 

The shortage comes as a result of Puerto Rico’s devastation following Hurricane Maria. The manufacturers for IV fluid bags are in Puerto Rico.

See a map of flu cases around Houston:

Here is the ongoing communication from local hospitals about the shortage:

CHI St. Luke’s Health:

Like many hospitals and health systems experiencing shortages throughout the country, various strategies have been implemented to conserve our supply for needed drug admixtures. It is estimated that normal supply levels will resume by June 2018. We will continue to follow appropriate hospital and regulatory policies and procedures to ensure the health and safety of our patients.

Texas Children’s Hospital:

Last month, Texas Children’s initiated an urgent response to the shortage of IV fluids and related supplies, which stemmed from destruction at the Puerto Rico-based facilities of one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of IV products.

This shortage is ongoing at health care organizations nationally. At Texas Children’s, our Pharmacy Department is continuing efforts to produce IV fluids (IVFs). However, IV bags and IVFs with Dextrose are at critical shortage levels. Supply Chain is working with manufacturers to obtain monthly allotments, which are very limited. As such, conservation measures will remain in place and are essential to care for all of our patients. Our conservation efforts thus far have decreased IVF utilization by 37 percent, with no impact to the high quality care of our patients. Conservation teams throughout the organization are continuing to explore additional ways of decreasing IVF use, as well as oral hydration products as an alternative, as this shortage will not resolve quickly.

Global and department-specific updates are being provided daily to ensure we keep all impacted areas informed and optimize conservation opportunities. So please continue to pay attention to these communications, including updates through P&T, Med Staff Services and other clinical communication channels to remain abreast of supply availability and key actions or changes.

Memorial Hermann Hospital:

Memorial  Hermann has been actively monitoring the national shortage of IV fluid bags that is impacting hospitals across the U.S. While Memorial Hermann does not purchase its IV fluid bags from manufacturers that sustained damage following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the loss of production from that company has created a nationwide shortage of small IV bags used to administer some medications that is affecting all hospitals. Memorial Hermann is proactively addressing this issue by temporarily changing medication administration practices for certain medications. This alternate delivery method allows Memorial Hermann to continue providing the same safe, high-quality care that patients have come to expect from our facilities. Care of our patients has not been impacted and we will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.

MD Anderson Cancer Center:

Response from Karen Lu, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer ad interim, MD Anderson Cancer Center 
December 8, 2017

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has been following closely a national shortage of various intravenous fluids. A clinical team dedicated to monitoring supplies and patient care needs has implemented strategies to ensure patient care is not impacted by those shortages. Safe and effective patient care remains a top priority, and MD Anderson will continue to track and adjust, as needed.

Houston Methodist Hospital has not commented.