Infectious Diseases

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Cold versus the Flu - Here's the Difference

During the fall and winter months colds and the flu (influenza) can affect many people. Colds are not as severe as the flu. Complications from the flu can be life threatening for the elderly and for people with chronic illnesses. Children aged 6-23 months are at greater risk for complications and hospitalization because of th flu.

So how do you know if you have a cold or the flu? Check the chart below for some of the major differences between the two illnesses: 

Symptom

Cold

Influenza

Fever

Rare

Usual; high fever (102 ° F/39 ° C - 104 ° F, 40 ° C), sudden onset, lasts 3 to 4 days.

Headache

Rare

Usual; can be severe

Muscle aches and pains

Sometimes, generally mild

Usual; often severe

Tiredness and weakness

Sometimes, generally mild

Usual; severe, may last up to 2 to 3 weeks

Extreme tiredness

Unusual

Usual; early onset, can be severe

Runny, stuffy nose

Common

Common

Sneezing

Common

Sometimes

Sore throat

Common

Common

Chest discomfort, coughing

Sometimes, mild to moderate

Usual, can become severe.

Complications

Can lead to sinus congestion or infection, and ear aches.*

Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, and become life-threatening. Can worsen a chronic condition.

Prevention

Frequent hand washing

Annual immunization and frequent hand washing

*Colds do not generally result in serious health problems such as pneumonia or bacterial infections.

References
(1) Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. About the Flu. Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2010. Available from: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/publichealth/flu/virus.aspx 

 

 What can you do to avoid catching the flu or cold? 

coverdisinfectstay homeflu shot

 For more information on the flu, click here.

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