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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.

For more information

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

  • 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...

  • 22 More
    • AHA News: Flu May Play Part in Plaque-Rupturing Heart Attacks

      Getting a flu vaccine can reduce the risk of a common type of heart attack in people 60 and older, according to new research that suggests the virus plays a role in rupturing plaque. More...

    • U.S. Flu Vaccinations Hit New Record High This Season

      In all, 43.5% of respondents said they had already had a flu shot, 13.5% said they would "definitely" get one; and 9.3% said they would "probably" do so. More...

    • Not the Flu: COVID Death Risk Is 3.5 Times That of Influenza

      The risk of death from COVID-19 is more than triple that from seasonal flu, researchers in Canada say. More...

    • Kids Who Got Flu Shot Had Milder COVID Symptoms: Study

      Here's a new reason to make sure your kids get their seasonal flu shot. A new study showed that it reduces kids' risk for symptoms and severe illness if they get COVID-19. More...

    • What Happened to the Flu This Year?

      The United States has far fewer flu cases than normal, and experts say it's probably due to measures people are taking to protect themselves from COVID-19. More...

    • High-Dose Flu Shot No Better for Heart Patients

      Getting a high-dose flu shot instead of a regular dose doesn't further reduce the risk of serious flu-complications, hospitalization or death in people with heart disease, new research shows. More...

    • Are Scientists Close to a 'Universal' Flu Vaccine?

      Scientists say they may be getting closer to creating a universal flu vaccine. More...

    • AHA News: Flu Shot Reduces Risk of Death for People With Heart Disease

      For people who have heart disease, getting a flu shot greatly reduces the risk of dying or developing serious heart-related complications, a new analysis shows. More...

    • Flu Vaccine Rates Low in Young Adults With Heart Disease

      Among young adults with heart disease, less than 25% get a flu shot, a new study finds. More...

    • Is It a Cold, the Flu or COVID-19?

      Cold and flu season is here, so you need to know how to tell the difference between those illnesses and COVID-19, an expert says. More...

    • AHA News: Strokes and Heart Attacks Increase When Flu-Like Illnesses Rise

      Heart attack risk increases quickly after a flu-like illness, while stroke risk rises slower, according to new research. More...

    • Why Getting a Flu Shot is More Important Than Ever This Fall

      Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot this season, the American Medical Association (AMA) says. With the coronavirus pandemic raging, a flu shot is more important than ever to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from the flu. More...

    • With 'Twindemic' Looming, 2 out of 5 Americans Plan to Skip Flu Shot

      Despite a potential looming "twindemic" of influenza and COVID-19, about 2 in 5 U.S. adults do not plan to get a flu shot, a new survey shows. More...

    • 1 in 3 U.S. Parents Won't Get Flu Shots for Their Kids: Survey

      The coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming flu season could pose a double threat, but many U.S. parents plan to skip flu shots for their kids, a new survey finds. More...

    • Avoid the 'Twindemic:' Get Your Flu Shot Now

      The best time to get your flu shot is now if you want to protect yourself against a potential "twindemic" infection of influenza and COVID-19, experts say. More...

    • COVID-19 Prevention Might Translate Into Record Low Flu Rates: CDC

      The final statistics are in for America's last flu season, and the news is good: Record low rates of influenza were reported as cases plummeted during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. More...

    • Mom-to-Be's Flu Shot Doesn't Raise Autism Risk

      Pregnant women are understandably worried about everything that goes into their bodies. But here's one worry they can cross off that list: flu shots. More...

    • Flu Virus Can Travel on Dust Particles. Does the Same Hold True for Coronavirus?

      New research that shows flu viruses can spread through the air on dust, fibers and other microscopic particles has implications for the spread of the new coronavirus, scientists say. More...

    • Just Like COVID, Severe Flu Can Trigger Heart Crises

      Researchers found that among 90,000 Americans hospitalized with the flu, 12% had a serious heart complication, including heart attack and sudden heart failure. Many ended up in the intensive care unit, and 7% died in the hospital. More...

    • Bee Healthy: Honey May Beat Cold Meds Against Cough

      There may be no cure for the common cold, but a spoonful of honey might make it less miserable, a new research review concludes. More...

    • Flu Shots for Kids Protect Everybody, Study Shows

      When elementary school students get their annual flu shot, everyone benefits, a new study shows. More...

    • Is a 'Twindemic' of COVID-19 and Flu Coming This Fall?

      A bad flu season coupled with continued COVID-19 outbreaks could increase people's risk of fatal illness and overwhelm hospital capacity in communities already scrambling to treat coronavirus patients, experts say. More...

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