While sharing more time with family and friends during the colder months can be nice, it can take a turn for the worse when we start sharing germs too. We feel the symptoms — sniffling, sneezing, body aches, and fatigue — but also understanding whether it’s a cold or the flu can go a long way in helping you recover.

“It can be tricky to distinguish between a cold and the flu,” said Dr. Jerrold Gertzman, a board certified family medicine physician and divisional director of Primary Care for Capital Health Medical Group, “but there are simple steps you can take to prevent the spread of both, like washing your hands frequently and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces. If, despite your best efforts, you end up getting sick, a visit to your primary care doctor is a good first step toward a quicker recovery.”

A cold begins when a virus attaches itself to the mucous membranes lining your nose or throat. Your body’s immune system responds by sending white blood cells to combat the invader. This is what is behind the inflammation in your throat and nose that leads to coughing, sneezing, and lots of mucus.

For most adults, the worst symptoms usually pass after a few days. Children, however, have less developed immune systems and may take longer to recover. Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment or vaccine for colds. Plenty of rest and clear fluids usually do the trick, but if symptoms persist or worsen, call your primary care doctor. You may be dealing with the flu or a bacterial infection.

Seasonal flu is caused by viruses that attack the body in the same manner as a cold. Some symptoms are similar too: cough, sore throat and fatigue. Unlike cold sufferers, those with the flu usually experience high fever and body aches.

Sometimes during the winter, we get viruses in our digestive system as well. These can cause vomiting and or diarrhea. Children can be the source of such viruses, spreading the germs in school or at home.

Recovery takes a week or two with plenty of rest and clear liquids. Complications, however, can develop, ranging from sinus infections to pneumonia or more serious conditions. Those who are most at risk for complications include young children, adults 65 or older, pregnant women, and anyone with certain chronic medical conditions, such as lung disease or heart disease.

The first line of defense against the flu is vaccination, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend for everyone ages six months or older. Flu activity usually peaks between December and March each year. If you have not had your flu shot yet, it is not too late. You can still protect yourself and your family.

Whether it’s scheduling a wellness check-up or you’re just not feeling well, advanced medicine starts with your primary care doctor. If you don’t already have a primary care provider, Capital Health’s Primary Care Network offers convenient offices throughout the greater Mercer, Bucks and Burlington county region.

To learn more, or to find an office near you, visit capitalmedicalgroup.org.

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