Colds Infection

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Information on Colds Infection

Colds account for over 50% of all acute illness, up to 50% of time lost from work in adults, and up to 80% of time out of school in children. And while they seldom cause death, except in the very young and very old or in persons seriously ill with other diseases, these afflictions are surrounded by considerable misunderstandings that can lead to unnecessary anxiety and poor medical practice.

Basic to an understanding of any infectious disease is the fact that there are two major kinds of germs in this world, bacteria and viruses. In the case of colds, this distinction becomes critical because most of these are caused by viruses. And since viruses are not affected by antibodies, the obvious conclusion is that the vast majority of colds should not be treated with antibiotics.

Generally, infections are named for their location followed by the suffix "-itis." Thus an infection in the major breathing tubes to each lung - the bronchi - becomes "bronchitis." Other examples are laryngitis, pharyngitis and tonsillitis.

URI (upper respiratory infection):
This phrase is used for infections located in the upper part of the breathing system, that is, above the lungs. This is what the term "cold" generally refers to, the infamous collection of symptoms such as runny nose, sore throat, weepy eyes, and so on. URIs may be caused by many different groups of viruses. Some of these groups are themselves very large. For instance, there are over 100 types of rhinoviruses, the viruses most commonly associated with fall and spring colds.

Flu (influenza):
Generally these infections are distinguished from URIs by the suddenness and severity of symptoms and the more generalized ill feeling ("ache all over") and prostration (being "pooped out") that usually accompanies the flu. Unlike URIs, flu often is accompanied by fever greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit. When flu occurs in large epidemics, it usually is caused by influenza type A viruses.

Croup and bronchiolitis:
These common infections in young children are apt to produce obstruction to air flow that results in considerable breathing difficulty. Signs of such difficulty, such as stridor (a harsh, shrill noise) or retraction (pulling in) of chest muscles during breathing, signal the need for immediate medical attention.

As mentioned above, this term refers to infection in the major breathing tubes leading to the lungs from the windpipe. This diagnosis is often invoked when no evidence of infection in the lungs can be found but chest findings such as deep cough and wheezing are present.

This word should be used only for infection in the lungs. The word "lungitis" might be more logical, but the term pneumonia, stemming from the Greek word for lung, has long been used. Such infections are more likely to be treated with antibiotics. Viral pneumonias are common, however, and may be difficult to distinguish from bacterial pneumonias.

It is important to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections since viruses should not be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes this distinction is not easy even after careful examination and many tests (such as blood count, chest x-rays, microscopic examination and cultures of sputum). And sometimes it is legitimate to treat with antibiotics, even though the infecting organism is not certain. But as a general rule, the doctor who takes time to examine you and then indicates that antibiotics are not necessary is doing you a favor by avoiding unnecessary expense and possibly severe reactions to antibiotics. Instead of requesting antibiotics, you should be asking if they are really necessary. Obviously, self-medication with antibiotics is totally inappropriate. In addition to the danger involved, antibiotics can confuse culture tests that might be needed.


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