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Fevers, Coughs and Runny Noses: Information for Parents
Winter is here, and along with that come influenza (i.e. the Flu), the common cold, and pertussis
(i.e. whooping cough).
What are some common symptoms?
The symptoms of the common cold, pertussis and the flu are very similar, especially early on.
Check out this resource from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that outlines their
similarities and the differences. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): Is it a Cold, Flu, or Pertussis?
How are these respiratory illnesses spread?
Influenza and the common cold virus are spread through direct and indirect contact with
respiratory secretions. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made
when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of
people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get
flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or
Pertussis is caused by a type of bacteria. These bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like
extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins, which
damage the cilia and cause inflammation (swelling). Pertussis is also spread from person to
person though coughing and sneezing while in close contact.
How can these illnesses be prevented?
The Flu Vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu. While some of the flu viruses
spreading this season are different from what is in the vaccine, vaccination can still
provide protection and might reduce severe outcomes. The Center for Disease Control
and Prevention still recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age
and older.
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. There are vaccines for infants,
children, preteens, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the
pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap.
Frequent hand washing is key to reducing the spread of cold and flu viruses and other
germs. Hand sanitizer works too, although soap and water is better, if available.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; or cough or
sneeze into the crook of your elbow instead of into a bare hand if a tissue is not
available. Dispose of used tissues right away.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person
touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes,
nose, or mouth.
What is the recommended treatment?
If you have symptoms, stay home, rest, and avoid contact with other people. A child
should be kept home from school until 24 hours after a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or
higher) or vomiting goes away.
Certain people are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications. Among those
at higher risk are children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years of age and older and
pregnant women. Others include people with chronic health conditions such as asthma,
heart disease or weakened immune systems. If you are in a high risk group and develop
flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor. Remind them about your high risk
status for flu.
Pertussis is treated with antibiotics. If you or your child develop a cough, contact your
health care provider to find out if you or your child should be seen and tested for
pertussis. Pertussis can be very serious for infants and for people whose immune system
is compromised.
Drink plenty of water and other clear liquids to prevent fluid loss.
Call your health care provider it you have any questions or concerns.