What You Need to Know About Colds, Flu and Respiratory Infections

Avatar Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
What You Need to Know About Colds, Flu and Respiratory Infections

How much do you really know about the treatment of colds and flu?  Even in normal times, it is easy to be confused by viral versus bacterial infections, and sorting out which is which when we get sick.  This gets further compounded following a disruptive event when physicians and pharmacies are not available to assist with our healthcare needs.

In this exclusive new article by contributing author, Joe Alton, colds, flu, and respiratory infections are addressed along with tips for ensuring good respiratory hygiene during good times and bad.

What You Need to Know About Colds, Flu and Respiratory Infections | Backdoor SurvivalColds and Flus

by Joe Alton, MD

Cold and flu season is upon us, and your whole family will be at risk for respiratory infections.  In survival settings, a major influenza outbreak could put your entire community out for the count.

Both colds and flus are caused by viruses, so antibiotics (effective against bacteria but not viruses) aren’t of much help. Common colds may be caused by 200 different viruses, but the most likely culprit is a type of Rhinovirus, named after the Greek word for “nose”. Influenza comes from different viruses in the Influenza A, B, and C categories.

Influenza in Recent History

Over the course of time, epidemic influenza outbreaks from this category have included:

  • The Russian Flu in 1889-90 (1 million deaths)
  • The Spanish Flu in 1918 (50-100 million deaths)
  • The Asian Flu in 1957-8 (1-1.5 million deaths)
  • The Hong Kong Flu in 1968-9 (750,000 deaths)
  • The Swine Flu in 2009-2010 (18,000 deaths)

Although the virus is the original infection, most deaths associated with influenza are caused due to secondary bacterial pneumonia, opportunistic infections that occur due to a weakened immune system.

Viral particles can live for up to 48 hours on common household surfaces, such as kitchen counters, doorknobs, etc.  These particles can travel 4 to 6 feet when a person sneezes.

Symptoms of Colds and Flus

Symptoms of colds and influenza can include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, headaches, and sneezing.  Symptoms of lower respiratory infections (pneumonia and some bronchitis) include a cough (with phlegm, it is referred to as a “productive” cough), high fever, shortness of breath, and weakness/fatigue.  Most respiratory infections start showing symptoms 1 to 3 days after viral exposure and last for 7 to 10 days.

Although colds and flus share several symptoms, there are differences between the common cold and influenza that can help you make a diagnosis:

Symptoms  Cold  Influenza
Fever Rare, Low Common, High
Headache Rare Common
Nasal Congestion Common Occasional
Sore Throat Common Occasional
Cough Mild Severe
Aches and Pains Common Severe
Fatigue Mild Severe

Treatment of Colds and Flus

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the common cold nor influenza. Therefore, treatment involves improving the symptoms.

For influenza, antiviral medications such as Tamiflu or Relenza will shorten the course of the infection if taken in the first 48 hours after symptoms appear.  If treatment is started after that time, antivirals have little or no effect.  For colds, concentrate your treatment on the area involved; nasal congestion medication for runny noses or a sore throat lozenges for pharyngitis, for example.

Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen will alleviate muscle aches and fevers. Steam inhalation and good hydration also give some symptomatic relief.  Natural products like lavender or eucalyptus oil are good additions to any steam inhalation therapy.

Although most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, some sore throats may be caused by a bacterium called Beta-Streptococcus (Also known as Strep Throat).  These patients will often have white spots on the back of their throat and/or tonsils and are candidates for antibiotics.  Amoxicillin (Fish-Mox) or Keflex (Fish-Flex) are some of the drugs of choice in those not allergic to Penicillin drugs.  Erythromycin family drugs are helpful in those who are Penicillin-allergic.

Additional Reading:  Why Store Fish Antibiotics For Survival

In most cases, however, it is not appropriate to use antibacterial agents such as antibiotics for upper respiratory infections.  Antibiotics have been overused in treating these problems, and this has led to resistance on the part of some organisms to the more common drugs.  Resistance has made some of the older antibiotics almost useless in the treatment of many illnesses.  Don’t self-medicate unless modern medical care is not accessible for the foreseeable future; if there are medical professional available, seek them out.

Good respiratory hygiene will prevent patients from transmitting their infection to others.  Practicing good hygiene is not only a good strategy for you and your family but demonstrates social responsibility and could prevent a pandemic. Follow this strategy:

  • Sick individuals should cover their mouth and nose with tissues and dispose of those tissues safely.
  • Use a mask if coughing.  Although others caring for the sick individual may wear masks (N95 masks are best for healthcare providers), it is most important for the afflicted person to wear one.
  • Have caregivers perform rigorous hand hygiene before and after contact.  Wash with soap and warm water for 15 seconds or clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizers if they do not appear soiled.
  • Sick persons should keep at least 4 feet away from other persons, if possible due to droplet spread.
  • Wash down all possibly contaminated surfaces such as kitchen counters or doorknobs with an appropriate disinfectant (dilute bleach solution will do).
  • Isolate the sick individual in a specific quarantine area, especially if he/she has a high fever.
  • Have medical care providers wear gloves at all times when treating the patient.

Additional Reading:  Survival Basics: Hand & Surface Hygiene When There’s No Water to Spare

In future articles, we’ll look at pneumonia, bronchitis, and other infections that affect the lower respiratory tract.  We’ll also further explore some natural remedies that might keep your family healthy in good times or bad.


The Final Word

After reading Joe’s article, a light bulb went off.  The reason why viral and bacterial infections get confused is that one can lead to the other.  Let me repeat from above:

‘Although the virus is the original infection, most deaths are associated with influenza are caused due to secondary bacterial pneumonia, opportunistic infections that occur due to a weakened immune system.’

From that statement alone, it seems prudent that one of the best preps we can gift to ourselves is that of a strong immune system. I have been looking into ways to do this that go beyond diffusing essential oils and taking swigs of homemade elderberry syrup.  Bone broth (or good old-fashioned chicken soup), for example, nourishes the soul as well as our immune system and is easy to prepare and does not cost an arm and a leg.

There are some diehard survivalist-types that might scoff at citing a strong immune system as an invaluable prep.  As a topic, it is not as sexy as learning how to live in the woods for a month.  That being said, knowing how to prevent colds, flu, and respiratory infections are an important prep and a strong immune system is a part of that.  Thank you, Joe, for sharing your wisdome with Backdoor Survival.

You can count on learning more about these health-related topics in future articles.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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 Below you will find the items related to today’s article as well as other personal favorites.

Amoxicillin (Fish-Mox):  Read the review and decide for yourself. This is 100% pure amoxicillin, designed to keep your fishies healthy.  There is also Fin Mox Forte (500mg/100 Capsules): but there are not as many reviews.

Thomas Labs Fish Mox Amoxicillin 100 Count 250mg Capsules:  The prices on fish antibiotics from Wal-Mart are some of the best out there.  500mg capsules are available here and shipping is free.

Keflex (Fish-Flex):  Again, Wal-Mart has the best prices with free shipping on Fish Flex.

3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduces your exposure to airborne particles.

Alcohol Based Hand Sanitizer Gels: Alcohol based hand sanitizer gels kill 99% of bacterial on contact.  They are inexpensive and easy to use.  Check the ingredients, however and stay away from Triclosan which is toxic.

PURELL Sanitizing Hand Wipes Individually Wrapped 100-ct. Box:  I prefer individually wrapped sanitizing wipes because they are easy to carry in a pocket, back or travel kit.  As long as they meet the 60% or more alcohol criteria, the brand should not be important. Note however, that packets such as these have a limited shelf-live; two years max.

Dynarex Black Nitrile Exam Gloves, Heavy-Duty, Box/100:   Pick your size; both Shelly and I wear a medium.

Lavender and Eucalyptus Essential Oils:  Using discount code BACKDOORSURVIVAL, enjoy a 10% discount on essential oils from Spark Naturals.  This also includes a discount on sale prices/.

ZAQ Noor Diffuser:  A diffuser is a great way to take advantage of the healing qualities of essential oils.  This model is my favorite.  It puts out a strong, fragrant mist that is both soothing and healing. Another favorite is the ZAQ Dew (pictured below).  It is very quiet.


Third Edition:  The SURVIVAL MEDICINE Handbook

A frequent question I get on Backdoor Survival has to do with healthcare matters when there is no doctor around. This is the definite source of survival medical information for all Prepper’s and is my go-to bible for survival medicine.

Survival Medicine Handbook 2016

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2 Responses to “What You Need to Know About Colds, Flu and Respiratory Infections”

  1. Two comments, 1) make sure that a mask covering a sick person’s mouth doesn’t have an exhalation valve. Caregivers can wear masks with an exhalation valve for comfort, but if the patient has an exhalation valve you’re not protecting anyone. (This was one of my pet peeves in the movie Contagion, when they were rushing someone into isolation they put what appears to be an N95 mask with valve on the patient…) Simple surgical masks would be fairly effective. I really should get some, but I have N95 masks both with and without exhalation valves, so I have options for my family.
    2) Alcohol based sanitizers are useful when water is too scarce for hand washing, but if water is available it’s always a good idea to wash even if hands don’t look soiled…you can still have germs sitting on your skin which if you touch your eyes, mouth, nose, etc can get you infected. The sudsing action of washing your hands lifts particles up and off the skin. For the truly paranoid, after drying your hands thoroughly, follow up with the hand sanitizers just in case. Of course, having nitrile gloves and using them properly can minimize the risk to both patient and caregiver.
    And as always, thanks for timely and useful info Gaye!

  2. Thank you, Gaye, for including all this education from other experts. These types of articles can help us all in our everyday lives, not just SHTF situations.

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