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- Family Medicine
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September 19, 2019 | Family Medicine
Flu season — the time of year when influenza epidemics are most common — generally occurs during the fall and winter seasons. You can contract the influenza virus at any time throughout the year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but your risk is especially low during the summer months.
If you or a family member experience flu-like symptoms, you might worry that you have contracted influenza. A more likely explanation, however, may be a summer cold.
Knowing how to recognize symptoms of the flu can help you determine when to seek treatment from your family medicine provider.
The CDC describes the flu as a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. This illness spreads through contact with another infected person or a surface that is contaminated with the influenza virus.
Potential complications of the flu include ear and sinus infections and pneumonia, although the CDC reports that some patients may experience life-threatening complications, including inflammation of the heart or brain, organ failure or sepsis.
Typical influenza symptoms include the following:
Influenza symptoms rarely last beyond two weeks, according to the CDC.
Causes & Symptoms of a Summer Cold
Although patients often believe they have the flu, a cold is the more likely culprit if symptoms develop during the summer.
Some type of virus is almost always to blame for the common cold. Rhinoviruses typically cause wintertime colds; however, during the summer months, you can usually blame your symptoms on enteroviruses, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Although anyone can catch a summer cold, children are particularly susceptible to enteroviruses.
Just like influenza, you can contract the common cold from another infected person or by contact with a contaminated surface.
Symptoms of a summer cold typically include the following:
Most summer cold symptoms disappear in less than a week.
No matter what time of year it may be, seek treatment from a medical practitioner any time you believe you have contracted the influenza virus. The flu is highly contagious, and in certain circumstances, complications can become life-threatening.
The problem with contracting a summer cold is that the enterovirus causes symptoms that closely resemble influenza, which are not typically present with a rhinovirus-caused cold.
Contact your doctor if your fever reaches 103 degrees, if you feel pain in your chest or have shortness of breath, or if your cough produces green, brown or yellow mucous. Seek medical attention if you develop a rash or if you experience persistent vomiting. You should also contact your healthcare provider if you have a high risk of complications.
The CDC warns of an increased risk for children, older patients, those with a weakened immune system, and anyone who has asthma, heart disease or any other chronic illness.
If you aren’t sure whether you have a summer cold or the flu, contact your family medicine doctor today to schedule an appointment.
“Catching a Cold When It’s Warm: What’s the Deal with Summertime Sniffles?” News in Health (NIH).
“Key Facts About Influenza (Flu).” U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“Flu Symptoms & Complications.” U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.