"The flu is not just another cold," says Dr. Marie Griffin, an influenza expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who believes that many Americans take the virus too lightly. But you might say the flu is the common cold's stronger, nastier cousin.
Like the common cold, the flu causes coughing, sneezing, a runny nose, and a sore throat. But for the flu-bitten patient, things get much worse -- fast. In just a day's time, a healthy person can develop a full-blown case of the flu with a fever, headache, sore muscles, and debilitating fatigue. The worst symptoms usually pass in three to five days, though a cough or sore throat may linger longer. In some cases, however, a flu infection can persist, causing serious complications.
One of the most common complications of the flu is pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs that causes chest pain and a cough that produces yellow-green discharge. Although the flu can damage lungs directly, it's more common for a virus to weaken the respiratory system's defenses, leaving lungs vulnerable to an assault by bacterial infections, which causes pneumonia, says Dr. Kristin Nichol, of the Minneapolis Veteran's Affairs Medical Center.
Doctors generally only prescribe medication for severe cases. If the flu catches you, doctors say the best therapy is to rest, drink fluids, and take a nonaspirin pain reliever.