Family Health Checklist for Cold and Flu

items to help with cold and flu

Photo by Kate Sears

Photo by Kate Sears

Know the difference.

Cold: Symptoms, caused by rhinoviruses, develop gradually and last 7 to 10 days (if longer, see your doctor). Usually induces sneezing, runny nose, sore throat.

Flu: Symptoms, caused by influenza viruses, start abruptly and last a week or two. Usually induces aches, chills, headache, fever, fatigue. Talk to your MD if you have a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes.

Nobody age 18 or younger who has the flu should take aspirin. (It can cause a serious complication.) Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen instead.

7 Prevention Tips

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Keep hands away from eyes, nose, and mouth. 
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Wash hands often.
  • Stay warm and hydrated.
  • Sleep at least seven hours every day.
  • Avoid crowds (as best you can).

Take note: Items like pens, cash, and cell phones are covered in germs! 

Take a sick day.

“People try to tough it out and go to work despite having a cold or the flu,” says Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine. “Not only is this unpleasant and dangerous for the person who is ill, it can also spread the viruses to coworkers.” Instead of pushing yourself, be a real hero and stay home. Rest up and return to work and outside errands when you’re feeling better—and at least 24 hours after a fever disappears. 

Stock your medicine cabinet.

“Choose medicines based on the symptoms you want to treat,” advises Iwasaki. These new products alleviate the most troubling ones.

Theraflu PowerPods
Brew a cold remedy from pods that fit most single-serve coffee machines.

DayQuil or NyQuil + VapoCool Severe
Symptom relief plus cooling sensations.

Sudafed PE Pain + Pressure + Cough Liquid
The brand’s first liquid formulation for adults who struggle with swallowing pills.

CVS Children’s Cold Remedies
This new line of liquid cold meds is free of alcohol, dyes and artificial sweeteners.

3 Facts About Handwashing

It doesn’t matter if water is warm or cold.

To really get them clean, scrub hands for 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). 

Studies aren’t conclusive, but the CDC recommends a clean towel or air-drying (as opposed to electric dryers, which may spread germs) as the most hygienic way to dry. 

Source: CDC

People who get less than six hours of sleep each night are four times as likely to catch a cold as those who regularly sleep for seven hours.

Source: University of California, San Francisco

Good to know

“Antibiotics won’t help you recover from a cold or the flu as they don’t work against viruses,” says Angela Campbell, MD, MPH, a medical officer in the CDC’s Influenza Division. There’s no cure for colds, but your doctor may prescribe an antiviral like Tamiflu to fight the flu, especially if you’re at high risk for complications.