Headache and chills are symptoms of dozens of illnesses, most of which are caused by viruses. Among the most common diseases that cause these symptoms are colds and flu. Meningitis, strep throat, and food poisoning may also include headaches and chills in their constellations of symptoms.
More than 200 different cold viruses infect billions of people around the world each year. The exact cold symptoms depend upon which virus is contracted, but in all cases, the primary symptoms are runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. Some people may experience headache, muscle aches, chills, a cough, or a sore throat. Young children may have a fever between 100° and 102° Fahrenheit (37.7° to 38.8° Celsius). The common cold usually lasts about seven days and, often, only the symptoms are treated.
The onset of the flu begins with a sudden fever of 102° to 106° Fahrenheit (38.8° to 41.1° Celsius), which lasts one to five days. At the same time or following the fever, those with the flu may experience body aches, headaches, chills, dizziness, and tiredness. Some people develop a dry, hacking cough, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, congestion, loss of appetite, nausea and/or vomiting. With the exception of the cough and tiredness, which may last for weeks, flu symptoms usually last four to seven days. Most of the time, care focuses on relieving the patient's symptoms, unless they are severe and require hospitalization.
Viral meningitis occurs mostly in children under five years old, and the virus does not often infect people over 30. It may be caused by the herpes virus, West Nile virus, or enteroviruses. People may have a severe headache, chills, fever, photophobia, nausea, vomiting, fever, and/or a stiff neck. The patient's mental status often changes, and agitation or irritability are also quite common. There is no specific treatment for viral meningitis, and it generally resolves on its own in about two weeks.
Bacterial meningitis is much more serious than viral meningitis. It requires immediate treatment with antibiotics and sometimes hospitalization. The symptoms may include high fever, headache and chills, a stiff neck and nausea, photophobia, and seizures. Infants with bacterial meningitis may appear listless, vomit, and refuse to eat. Brain damage, deafness, blindness, or death may result if this disease is not treated quickly.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by group A streptococcus. Anyone may contract strep throat, but it is most often seen in children between 5 and 15 years old. The onset of this illness is abrupt; typical symptoms may be fever, sore throat, headache, chills, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, nasal congestion, and/or joint stiffness. If left untreated, patients may develop scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, or, more rarely, kidney disease. Antibiotics are usually prescribed and symptoms should disappear within a week.
Food poisoning is caused by ingesting bacteria or toxins in contaminated food, and Staphylococcus and E. coli are common culprits. Symptoms may appear 30 minutes or more after eating the contaminated food, and commonly include stomach cramps and diarrhea, weakness, a fever, headache and chills, and nausea and vomiting. The medical professional may recommend over-the-counter medication to settle the stomach or relieve diarrhea, but the symptoms usually go away within 12 to 48 hours.