As soon as the weather starts getting colder, pharmacies, schools, and the internet are teeming with information on cold and flu season. You take the proper precautions to avoid becoming ill with either the common cold or the flu, but have you ever considered if it's possible to get both at once? Coming down with symptoms of either can be enough to keep you bed-ridden for a week, so the thought of having both at once can be exceptionally frightening.
The bad news
This may not be what you wanted to hear, but it is possible to contract both the cold and flu simultaneously. The facts aren’t that simple though. Luckily, it’s unlikely that you’ll experience symptoms of different viral illnesses at the same time.
The common cold is caused by a rhinovirus. There are over 100 different strains of this type. These rhinoviruses are viral infections that cause the symptoms we’ve all experienced many times - runny or stuffy nose, cough, sore throat, and headache. The immune system is very good about keeping past cold virus out. If it encounters a particular strain of virus that it has encountered before, it has antibodies built up that can help fight off that virus. However, when it encounters a strain that it is not familiar with, you may get sick before your body can build up the proper antibodies to fight it off.
The good news
Because of this, it is possible to be infected with both a cold and a flu virus at the same time. It may even be two different types of cold viruses! If you are suffering from two separate cold viruses, the immune responses will be very similar. That means you won’t suffer worse than if you were only battling one cold virus.
The two different types of viruses both have long roads to recovery. Even so, your body fights off these viruses in a similar way. You likely won’t require a trip to the hospital. If you have two different viral infections, you may not even realize you have more than one! 1
The risk of you contracting two different viral infections at once is slim. Your immune system kicks in with an antiviral immune response when you get a virus. Since the immune system is already on high alert for viral infections, it’s not likely that another one will be able to sneak past it.
Viral infection + bacterial infection
The real problem occurs when your body contracts two different types of illnesses at once. The antiviral immune response won’t protect you against bacterial infections. A common complication of the flu is a secondary bacterial infection, known as a “superinfection.” Bacterial infections can cause pneumonia, which can be fatal if left untreated. In this case, the immune system is attempting to fight off two very different types of illnesses. 2 This puts a strain on the immune system. Its ability to effectively fight off both will be hindered.
Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include a sudden high fever (over 102°F), a cough with thick yellow or green mucus, sudden chills and chest pain when coughing. If you experience any of these symptoms of the cold or flu, you should seek help immediately.
Staying healthy during cold and flu season
Still, you don’t need to avoid human contact for the rest of the winter season. Simple hygiene can go a long way. One of the best ways to avoid getting ill is to frequently wash your hands. you should especially do so after spending time in public places or around people who are ill. You should also get in the habit of frequently disinfecting common surfaces in your home. You should also avoid touching your face. Both the cold and flu viruses enter through the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, and mouth. By touching your face, you can inadvertently expose yourself to the virus.
If you do come down with the cold or flu, try to get lots of sleep, drink plenty of fluids including hot herbal tea and water, and make sure you’re getting enough vitamins. Herbal remedies and essential oils can be a great natural way to ease your symptoms.
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