The Cold Facts

Article excerpt

The average American adult gets at least two colds a year, while children average six. If you have kids, you can count on having more than two colds a year.

Colds are most often caused by viruses more than 200 varieties of them. Contrary to popular myths, colds are not inevitable if you forget to wear a hat in the winter or if your child's blanket falls off during the night. Colds do occur more often in cooler weather, but that's because people are cooped up inside, where they can easily share viruses through coughing, sneezing and other contact.

Influenza the flu is more serious than a cold and is caused mainly by three viruses: influenza type A, type B and type C. The most prevalent is type A, and historically it has caused the most severe illness and has been responsible for most epidemics. Flu outbreaks usually occur between the months of October and May, peaking between December and March.

Flu symptoms usually include fever, runny nose, headache, cough and sore throat; colds usually don't have fever.

"With flu you have fever. You are hurting all over, and you are really sick. It is a more serious thing than an ordinary cold," says Dr. Michael Karl, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine.

Karl says headaches almost always accompany the flu, and it is best to see your doctor for treatment.

"There is some virtue to staying home. Not only will you not pass it on to other people, but you will get well faster. With the flu, it is even more important," says Karl.

Flu and colds are highly contagious and can spread rapidly in several ways: droplets of respiratory fluid that become airborne, and direct person-to-person contact when shaking hands or sharing pencils or the telephone.

Experts say the most effective way of containing viruses is to wash your hands often. Dispose of used tissues promptly, and don't share drinking or eating utensils or other objects with family members who are sick.

Some studies have suggested that taking regular megadoses of vitamin C can lower your risk of catching a cold or at least shorten the number of days you are sick. …