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Cold & Flu

Cold and Flu: Similar, but Not the Same

You are sneezing, coughing, have a stuffy nose and can't get out of the bed. Well, is it a cold or the flu? These two types of respiratory illnesses are caused by different viruses but share similar symptoms. It is important to know the difference. Seasonal colds rarely have serious complications. The flu can result in pneumonia, infections, or life-threatening complications that need hospitalization.

Similarities and differences

A cold is a virus that causes an infection in the upper respiratory. There are many types of viruses that can cause the cold throughout the year, but most of the viruses are more common during the winter because they develop in low humidity. A cold is most contagious in the first 2-4 days of being exposed to the virus. You can catch a cold if someone who is infected sneezes or coughs near you, or if you touch something that was handled by them, and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. You can limit your exposure by washing your hands often.

The flu is also an upper respiratory illness. The flu virus runs usually between October till April, and peaks between December and February. The viruses that cause the flu vary each year, so this is why it is important to have the flu shot yearly, as a new flu vaccine is developed. The flu is also contagious and is picked up the same way as a cold. However, an infected person is contagious for a longer period of time, from 1 day before showing symptoms, and another 5 to 7 days after.

What are the symptoms?

Usually, the symptoms of a cold are milder than those of the flu. Colds tend to develop gradually in the course of a few days and last about a week to 10 days. The symptoms of the flu are harsh and occur fast. Normally, if there are no complications, it takes a week or two to fully recover.

If you have the cold you are likely to experience these symptoms:

  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Headache
  • Slight fever

If you have the flu, the symptoms may include:

  • Moderate to high fever
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Runny or congested nose
  • Headache, muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

When should you visit premier?

A cold usually goes away after 7 to 10 days. It is important to drink plenty of water and get ample rest. You can use over-the-counter medications to relieve most cold symptoms if needed. You should see a doctor if you are still experiencing the symptoms after a week without any improvement, or if you have a persistent high fever.

If you think you have the flu, it is important to see a doctor within 48 hours of the first symptoms, especially if you are in the risk group, including the elderly, pregnant women, and children. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that can prevent complications, as well as shorten the duration of the illness. Drink a lot of water and rest until you feel better. Call or visit Premier if the symptoms worsen or if you notice signs of pneumonia, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • High fever
  • Coughing with green mucus
  • Severe sore throat