Influenza (Flu) - Is it simply having a bad cold? | Kids Clinic

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Influenza or the “flu” – Is it simply having a bad cold?

Contributed by: Dr Mas Suhaila Isa

Influenza, more commonly referred to as the “flu”, is not the same as having a bad cold. Influenza is a respiratory disease with symptoms common to a cold – runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing and coughing. However, influenza can be more severe than a cold and often associated with high fever and chills. Other symptoms also include headache, fatigue and muscle aches. Children with the flu may also experience vomiting and diarrhoea. However, it is difficult to distinguish influenza from other acute viral respiratory illnesses without the aid of a laboratory test to detect the virus.

How is Influenza Spread?

The flu is transmitted easily through close contact with or inhalation of droplets generated when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. The risk of transmission is greater in enclosed environments. To avoid spread of flu, it is important to stay away from infected individuals and practice high levels of hygiene at all times. Influenza activity occurs in a seasonal pattern, with yearly winter epidemics in temperate climates. Tropical climates such as Singapore experience year-round transmission with some peaks around the rainy season.

Influenza in Young Children

The flu can be potentially dangerous and life-threatening for young children. Each year, millions of children get sick with seasonal influenza, thousands of children are hospitalised and some die from the flu. Children under 5 years old are at an especially high risk for serious influenza complications. These include sinus and ear infections, and more serious complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues, and organ failure. It could also worsen existing medical conditions such as asthma, chronic heart disease, diabetes, etc.

Preventing Influenza in Children

The below table summarises the main differences between the common cold and influenza.
SymptomsCommon ColdInfluenza
FeverRareYes, temperatures range from 38 – 41°C, lasting 3-4 days
ChillsUncommonCommon
Muscle Aches and PainsUncommon or mildCommon, can be severe
HeadacheUncommonCommon, can come on suddenly and be severe
Feeling Tired and WeakOccasional, usually mildCommon, can be moderate to severe and last for 2-3 weeks. Individual can experience sudden extreme tiredness.
CoughingCommon, mild to moderate hacking coughCommon, can be severe and last for several weeks
Chest DiscomfortOccasional, can be mild to moderateCommon, can be severe
SneezingCommonOccasional
Stuffy NoseCommonOccasional
Sore ThroatCommonOccasional

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