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Is it a Cold or Flu?

Q & A with Neil Padgett, M.D., MPH

Q:  How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

A:  While the common cold and flu can have similar symptoms, they are very different illnesses in terms of how long they last and how severe they are.

The first sign of a cold is often a sore throat. Symptoms that follow can include a runny nose, congestion or a cough. A cold usually lasts a few days to a week. Adults don’t often run a fever with a cold, but children may.

Flu symptoms are likely to come on suddenly and be more severe. Common signs of flu are a sore throat, fever, headache, muscle and body aches, congestion and cough. Some people get vomiting and diarrhea. While the flu can last a week or longer, it can also result in more serious illnesses like pneumonia, particularly in the elderly or very young.

Q: How can I treat a cold or flu?

A: First, get lots of rest and drink plenty of clear fluids — water, broth and sports drinks. Next, treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medications to ease fever and aches, congestion and coughs. For the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications such as Relenza® or Tamiflu®. They can make flu symptoms less severe and help you recover faster.

Q: Should I take antibiotics?

A: Antibiotics will not help because they fight bacterial infections, not viral illnesses like flu or the common cold. Taking an antibiotic will not make you feel better or help you get better faster.

Using antibiotics when you don’t need them contributes to a growing problem: antibiotic resistance. Due to over-use of antibiotics, some diseases that were once easily cured by antibiotics have become resistant to them. So, if you have a cold or flu, antibiotics are not a  treatment option.

Q:  When should I see a doctor?

A:  If you experience persistent coughing, fever, congestion, headache or painful swallowing (which may indicate strep throat), you should talk with your primary care provider. In general, if your symptoms aren’t getting better ‒ or start getting worse ─ call your doctor.

Q:  How can I prevent getting colds or the flu?

A:  Wash your hands often and avoid close contact with others who have a cold or flu.  A cold is contagious during the first three days, while a person with the flu can be contagious a day before feeling the symptoms and up to 5-7 days after getting sick.

The annual flu vaccine is your best defense against the flu.  After you get the shot, the vaccine takes 1-2 weeks to give you maximum protection, so the sooner you get vaccinated, the better.

Neil Padgett, M.D., MPHDr. Padgett is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1984 and completed his residency program in Internal Medicine at University of Maryland Medical Center in 1987.

How Primary Care Can Save Your Life

by Neil Padgett, M.D.

Dr. Neil Padgett, is a Partner and Clinical Director for Maryland Primary Care
Physicians in Glen Burnie, MD with 20 years experience as an internist and epidemiologist. In a recent interview he had the following to say about the vital role primary care medicine plays in the early detection and treatment of life-threatening illnesses.

In the early 20th century the three most common fatal diseases were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea. With the introduction of antibiotics and improved housing and sanitation, these problems are now much less common. Although they remain challenges in many third world countries, in western industrialized nations, infectious diseases like these are major public health threats only with people weakened as a result of illness, and smokers.

In their place, today’s three top causes of death in the developed world are heart disease, cancer, and stroke; all of which are “silent killers” that take years, even decades to develop and present symptoms. The real danger of these diseases is by the time they progress to the stage at which they are discovered, it’s generally too late. A sobering statistic that Dr. Padgett used to drive this point home is the fact that the first symptom in heart disease 20% of the time………. is death.

The mission of primary care physicians, beyond treating the common illnesses that prompt most people to see a doctor, is to improve the quality of life of their patients. This is accomplished by screening for these less obvious diseases, so they can be detected and treated at early stages. Some of the most common screenings are for prostate, colon and breast cancers, as well as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. The ultimate goal being detection and treatment of these diseases as early as possible, increasing the odds of a patient living a full and healthy life.

Dr. Padgett cites a recent example of a patient who came to his office for a same day appointment complaining of back pain that had been bothering him for two weeks with no improvement. The attending physician, Dr. Allison Williams was concerned with the way the pain was radiating into the patient’s back so she ordered a chest x-ray. The x-rays showed a spot on the lung, therefore Dr. Williams ordered additional tests, which indicated a potentially serious problem. The patient was referred to an oncologist, who confirmed early stage lung cancer and performed surgery shortly thereafter. As a result of early detection and intervention, this patient is now cancer-free. In speaking with Dr. Williams about what prompted her to pursue such a thorough screening process for a seemingly minor ailment, she said that her sensitivity to and recognition of the less obvious signs of cancer had been heightened by the experience she went through in losing her mother to lung cancer four years ago.

In conclusion, Dr. Padgett emphasizes the importance of seeing your primary care physician on a regular basis. He explains when a doctor has an established relationship with a patient, he’s both familiar with that individual’s medical history, and he knows when a reaction or behavior is out of character, which can signal a potential problem.

Neil Padgett, M.D.Dr. Padgett is a Maryland Primary Care Physicians, LLC partner and is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1984 and completed his residency program in Internal Medicine at University of Maryland Medical Center in 1987.