TODAY   |  January 29, 2014

How to survive the cold and flu season

Dr. Samson Davis, an emergency room doctor, offers TODAY viewers some tips on how to decipher the difference between the full-blown flu and an uncomfortable cold.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> important information to make it through flu season , it typically peaks in january and february. and 31 states are reporting high activity. dr. sam davis is an emergency room physician. good to have you here this morning.

>> good morning.

>> we'll start with the record temperatures. it's so cold throughout most of the country right now, how do the cold temperatures affect flu season in general?

>> well, people would think that with the cold season that you're more likely to get the flu, but it's actually not the case. it's transmitted from people to people . so if you have the flu, if you're coughing, sneezing, talking even, germs can travel up to 6 feet. and that's the only way you can catch the flu.

>> seems like annually we hear there's a particular flu strain that's bad or a flu season can be mild. what are we at right now?

>> i think it's peaking at its right time. january and february is usually when the flu season peaks. like in 2009 , we saw h1n1 very bad strain of flu. keep in mind that 36,000 people a year die from the flu. and over 200,000 people are hospitalized from the flu. it's a serious thing.

>> let me walk you through what happens with my physician. i say let me get this straight, doc, you're going to inject me with the flu to keep me from getting the flu. explain that for people.

>> so people think the flu shot can cause the flu, which is not true. the flu shot that you receive is an inactivated strand. usually they were already infected with the flu and it's just bad timing they received the shot at the same time they developed the flu.

>> what about timing? is it too late to get vaccinated? do you recommend people do it?

>> i would. the flu can run all the way until may. now is the perfect time to go out, especially if you're of age, if you're a mature population --

>> care giver.

>> health care provider. any sort of medical issues, as well.

>> can you be a carrier and not have the symptoms? can you have the flu and potentially give it to somebody and not quite know it?

>> surprisingly, no. up to 20% of people who carry the flu don't realize they have it. they can pass it on to others.

>> it's cold everywhere for most people, i've got a little upper respiratory thing going. break it down, cold or flu, what are the symptoms?

>> cold and flu, it's tough. almost can mimic each other. but flu tends to be a little bit more violent, headaches, fever, joint pain , muscle ache.

>> chills.

>> you feel like you were hit by a mack truck . the cold, cough, congestion, runny nose.

>> people love to pop pills. i'm sure you see it all the time in jersey. people come to you panicked, they think they have the flu. when are antibiotics appropriate?

>> never appropriate for a viral infection . and flu is a viral infection . the only time that you need an antibiotic is if you have a bacterial infection , like laryngitis or sore throat or pneumonia. those are the only times you need an antibiotic. the flu can be impacted by a bacterial infection . your immune system is weakened by the flu and then the bacteria can cause pneumonia or ear infection . and at that time, you do need an antibiotic. but the danger with the antibiotic, it kills the good bacteria in your body and makes you --

>> only go in if you really, really need to go in and get that antibiotic.

>> and only if it's a bacterial infection .

>> over the counter for virals. if you get sick, are you immune to all this?

>> i've been lucky. hand washing is the trick.

>> thank you, doctor.