Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Pharmacy TimesNovember 2009
Volume 75
Issue 11

Is It a Cold or the Flu?

This cold and flu season is in the news more than any other year, mainly due to the H1N1 virus and people’s legitimate concerns about recognizing their symptoms. Pharmacists across the country are fielding more questions about the common cold and the flu—and explaining the differences between them—as concerned patients come in. With flu activity widespread in 48 states, it’s no wonder that visits to doctors with influenza-like illnesses are on the rise.

Pharmacists are reassuring patients with answers about these conditions as visits to pharmacists are on the rise, as well. In fact, pharmacists are playing an even greater role than in past cold and flu seasons in providing valuable information, OTC remedies to relieve symptoms, and patient counseling. Cold and flu tend to have similar symptoms. They are both infections that are caused by viruses and develop in the airways, but patients need to be aware of notable differences, which the pharmacist can explain in a counseling or medication therapy management (MTM) session. Our cover story, “MTM Session: Targeting the Common Cold” (page 54), offers critical patient counseling ideas that will help pharmacists recognize cold symptoms and distinguish them from other underlying conditions or other viruses.

Whereas the cold season runs from late August to early April, there is sure to be extra activity through the spring as patients seek relief. Pharmacists are expecting a greater turnout of patients looking for OTC products to combat the common cold and to relieve flu symptoms. As pharmacists are among the most trusted health care professionals, we know that the public will follow their recommendations for OTC products. We bring you the latest on cough and cold products (page 16). (Also see for the Pharmacy Times annual survey of pharmacists’ recommendations in more than a dozen product categories including Cough/Cold/ Flu.)

As the season progresses, Americans will be spending $3.6 billion this year on cough, cold, and flu remedies, an increase of 1.7% over 2008, according to research by the Mintel International Group Ltd. The OTC pharmaceutical market overall will exceed a hefty $32 billion in 2009 in the United States, which accounts for 0.22% of the gross domestic product.

The question of “Is it a cold or the flu?” no doubt will be answered by pharmacists and other health care professionals. We don’t know yet how many cases will fall into the more serious flu category, but we do know that this year, the pharmacist has become an increasingly crucial member of the health care team.

Thank you for reading!

Mike Hennessy

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