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Is it a Cold or the Flu?


Updated May 28, 2014

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Woman with flu lying in bed
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The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. So how can you differentiate between the two?

The main difference between the common cold and the flu (influenza) is the severity of the symptoms.

Flu symptoms generally:

  • Come on quickly and are severe.
  • Include fever, which tends to be higher and last longer (3 to 4 days) than the occasional low-grade fever that may accompany a cold.
  • Include body aches and severe tiredness or fatigue.

Common cold symptoms:

  • Gradually get worse over a few days.
  • Are more likely to include runny or stuffy nose than the flu.
  • Often include a sore throat, while flu rarely does.
  • May cause tiredness, but it is much less severe than the exhaustion that comes with the flu.
  • Do not usually result in serious health problems and hospitalizations.

Not sure if you have a cold or the flu? Take this quick quiz to figure it out:

Tests are also available to diagnose the flu but there are no such tests for colds. A quick flu test can be done in the doctor's office and the results are usually available within a few minutes. These tests may help your doctor decide whether antiviral medications will benefit you if you do have the flu, but are more often used for the purpose of determining how widespread the flu is. Doctor's can usually decide which course of treatment is best for you based on your symptoms and medical history.

What is the Cold/Flu?


Questions & Answers: Cold Versus Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 18 Sep 2006. 23 May 2007.

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