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What to Do for Colds and Flu

Colds and Flu

Is It a Cold or the Flu? For Your Safety, Know the Difference

A cold and the flu (also called influenza) are alike in many ways. But the flu can sometimes lead to more serious problems, like the lung disease pneumonia.

A stuffy nose, sore throat, and sneezing are usually signs of a cold.

Tiredness, fever, headache, and major aches and pains probably mean you have the flu.

Coughing can be a sign of either a cold or the flu. But a bad cough usually points to the flu.

Know When to Call Your Doctor

You usually do not have to call your doctor right away if you have signs of a cold or flu. But you should call your doctor in these situations:

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your symptoms last a long time.
  • After feeling a little better, you develop signs of a more serious problem. Some of these signs are a sick-to-your-stomach feelin...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

  • A cold and the flu (also called influenza) are alike in many ways. But the flu can sometimes lead to more serious problems, like the lung disease pneumonia.
  • A stuffy nose, sore throat, and sneezing are usually signs of a cold.
  • Tiredness, fever, headache, and major aches and pains probably mean you have the flu.
  • Coughing can be a sign of either a cold or the flu. But a bad cough usually points to the flu.

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What types of influenza ("flu") are there?

  • Seasonal (or common) flu is a respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person. Most people have some immunity, and a vaccine is available.
  • Novel H1N1 flu is a newer influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in the U.S. in April 2009, and has spread to many countries around the world.
  • Bird flu is commonly used to refer to Avian flu (see below). Bird flu viruses infect birds, including chickens, other poultry and wild birds such as ducks.
  • Avian flu (AI) is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. Highly pathogenic H5N1 is deadly to domestic fowl, can be transmitted from birds to humans, and is deadly to humans. There is virtually no human immunity and human vaccine availability is very limited.
  • Pandemic flu is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person.

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What are the symptoms of the flu and how should it be treated?

  • Influenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms:
    • fever (usually high)
    • headache
    • tiredness (can be extreme)
    • cough
    • sore throat
    • runny or stuffy nose
    • body aches
    • diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults).
  • The single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination each year.
  • Your doctor may recommend use of an antiviral medication to help treat the flu. Four antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamavir, and oseltamivir) are approved for treatment of the flu.
  • If you get the flu, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
  • Also, you can take medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.

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What are the symptoms of a cold and how it should it be treated?

  • Although the common cold is usually mild, it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work.
  • More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common cold.
  • Symptoms of the common cold usually begin 2 to 3 days after infection and often include:
    • mucus buildup in your nose
    • difficulty breathing through your nose
    • swelling of your sinuses
    • sneezing
    • sore throat
    • cough
    • headache
    • fever that is usually slight but can climb to 102 degrees Fahrenheit in infants and young children.
  • Cold symptoms can last from 2 to 14 days, but like most people, you'll probably recover in a week. If symptoms occur often or last much longer than 2 weeks, you might have an allergy rather than a cold.
  • There is no cure for the common cold, but you can get relief from your cold symptoms by resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids, gargling with warm salt water or using throat sprays or lozenges for a scratchy or sore throat, using petroleum jelly for a raw nose, and taking aspirin or acetaminophen for headache or fever.

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News Articles

  • Flu Vaccine No Match for Circulating Variants This Season

    This season's flu shot offered virtually no protection against infection, a new government report shows. More...

  • Bird Flu Sweeping Through Poultry in Eastern U.S.

    Mass cullings have been implemented as a highly contagious form of avian flu has swept across the eastern half of the United States in recent weeks, killing both farmed poultry and wild birds. More...

  • Seasonal Flu Shots Give Kids Broader Protection Against New Strains

    A new study finds that kids who have received years of seasonal flu shots have antibodies that provide wider protection against new influenza strains, something researchers say doesn't happen in adults. More...

  • CDC Study Shows Power of Flu Vaccine for Kids

    Flu vaccines protect children against serious illness, even when the vaccine doesn't match the circulating flu virus, according to a new study that reinforces the importance of flu shots. More...

  • Exposure to Common Cold Might Help Shield Against COVID

    Vaccination is still the best way to protect someone from COVID-19, but new research suggests that immune system activation of T-cells by common colds may offer some cross-protection. More...

  • 20 More
    • New Worry: 'Flurona,' When COVID Meets the Flu

      It's a COVID phenomenon that had, until now, gone relatively unnoticed: You can be infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. More...

    • Going Viral: Flu Rebounds as Omicron Variant Surges

      Flu is making a comeback in the United States this year, with cases rising around the country even as the Omicron variant is surging, infectious disease experts say. More...

    • Flu Vaccine May Not Protect Against Main Flu Strain: Study

      This season's flu vaccine may do little to prevent infection with the main circulating virus strain because the strain has changed since the vaccine was developed, a new study suggests. More...

    • Who Gets a Flu Shot? Having a Doctor Is Key

      Public health experts have long recommended getting a seasonal flu shot, but a new study suggests there's hesitancy about that vaccine, too. Physicians and pharmacists can play a key role in flu shot uptake, the research shows. More...

    • Do Your Kids Really Need Cough & Cold Meds?

      When children have colds, parents may want to hold off on using cough and cold medicines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests. More...

    • Zinc Might Help Shorten Your Cold or Flu, Study Finds

      Many people pop a zinc supplement at the first sign of a cold, and there's new evidence supporting the habit. More...

    • COVID Pandemic May Have Driven a Flu Strain Into Extinction

      Influenza B/Yamagata is one of four strains regularly included in annual flu shots, but in the midst of COVID lockdowns that strain appears to have fallen completely off the radar, an Australian research team recently reported. More...

    • Flu Cases Already Up 23% This Season: Walgreens

      Flu activity in the United States is 23% higher so far this season than in 2020, sales of flu medications at Walgreens suggest. More...

    • Is a Really Bad Flu Season on the Way?

      It could be a bad flu season this year -- and for a couple of years to come -- in places in the United States where COVID-19 restrictions like social distancing and masking have been lifted, researchers warn. More...

    • AHA News: The Differences and Similarities Between the Flu and COVID-19

      The viruses that cause the flu and COVID-19 are not the same, and the diseases are different, too. But they have a lot in common, including the ways you can protect yourself. More...

    • 60% of Americans Will Delay or Skip Flu Shot This Year: Survey

      Experts are warning that the upcoming flu season could be severe as social distancing measures are relaxed across the United States, but a new survey finds that 6 in 10 Americans may delay or skip a flu shot. More...

    • CDC Urges Flu Shots as Survey Shows Half of Americans Don't Plan on It

      A new survey showing that nearly half of U.S. adults are not likely to get a flu shot this season has prompted federal health officials to urge all Americans to get the flu vaccines. More...

    • Flu Shot Even More Important During Pandemic: Expert

      Although the focus is on the COVID-19 vaccine, don't forget to also get your flu shot -- it's important, an expert says. More...

    • Is Flu Ready for a Comeback? Get Your Shot

      Health officials are bracing for a viral double whammy this fall and winter. More...

    • Is a Combo COVID/Flu Shot on the Way?

      Though at least two drug companies are working on a combo flu/COVID booster, the single-dose shot won't be ready for this flu season. More...

    • Chinese Man Hospitalized With H5N6 Bird Flu

      A man in China has been hospitalized with the H5N6 strain of avian flu, which is one of several potentially dangerous strains that can infect humans. More...

    • Flu Shot Might Help Ward Off Severe COVID

      If you are infected with COVID-19, having had a flu shot makes it less likely you will suffer severe body-wide infection, blood clots, have a stroke or be treated in an intensive care unit, according to the study. More...

    • Your Job Could Put You at Much Higher Risk for Flu

      Your job may significantly increase your risk of catching the flu, with potential implications for the spread of other infectious diseases including COVID-19, according to new research. More...

    • As COVID Rules Ease, Common Colds Rebound Across America

      These folks are part of a nationwide trend occurring as COVID-19 vaccinations rise, masks drop, protective restrictions lift, and life returns to some semblance of normal, experts say. More...

    • More Evidence Flu Shot Is Safe in Pregnancy

      There's more proof that getting a flu shot during pregnancy doesn't pose a risk to children's health. More...

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