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Colds and Flu

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

  • AHA: There's Still Time to Get a Flu Shot Before Peak Season Hits

    "It's still early in the season," said Dr. Trish Perl, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "But there have been some flu deaths reported already, which is always concerning to us." More...

  • Arm Yourself Against the Coming Flu Season

    If the last flu season is any indication, you need to take steps now to protect yourself against infection, an infectious diseases expert warns. More...

  • AHA: Flu Season Can Send More Heart Failure Patients to Hospital

    Getting the flu may not only make you feel crummy, it also might land you in the hospital for heart problems. More...

  • Health Tip: If Your Child Develops a Fever

    While a fever generally is not something to be overly concerned about, some cases require a doctor's intervention, the Nemours Foundation says. More...

  • Health Tip: Help Prevent a Sore Throat

    While uncomfortable, a normal sore throat can be treated at home with rest and plenty of fluids. In more serious cases, a bacteria or virus can trigger a sore throat, which may require a doctor's care. More...

  • 45 More
    • Roll Up Your Sleeves to Avoid the Flu

      With flu season looming, don't wait too long to get your flu shot, a health expert advises. More...

    • Getting Flu Shot Annually Won't Undermine Its Effectiveness in Kids

      Does getting a flu shot every year diminish its power to protect children? More...

    • Flu Activity Is Low -- For Now

      Although this flu season is off to a slow start, U.S. health officials are urging everyone to get vaccinated now. More...

    • FDA Gives OK to First New Flu Drug in 20 Years

      For the first time in two decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of antiviral flu drug. More...

    • Health Tip: Flu 101

      While for most people the flu is a major inconvenience but a minor health threat, for older adults and others with weaker immune systems, the flu can be life-threatening. More...

    • Don't Become a Flu Statistic. Get Vaccinated

      With flu season imminent, U.S. health officials urge everyone 6 months and older to get a flu shot. More...

    • Flu Shot in Pregnancy Lowers Risk of Flu Hospitalization

      The flu shot reduces a pregnant woman's risk of hospitalization for flu by 40 percent, new research shows. More...

    • Skip the Cold Meds for Kids Under 6, Experts Say

      School is in full swing, and with it comes a plethora of colds passed back and forth among kids. More...

    • Flu Season Lingers in Big Cities

      Big cities with a large commuting workforce tend to have longer, more grinding flu seasons, a new study suggests. More...

    • Colds Especially Bad? Your Nose Might Be to Blame

      For people suffering from a cold, the severity of their symptoms may be linked to the mix of bacteria that inhabit their nose. More...

    • With 80,000 Flu Deaths Last Season, Experts Urge Vaccination

      Influenza killed an estimated 80,000 Americans during last winter's flu season, making it the deadliest season in more than four decades, U.S. health officials reported Thursday. More...

    • A Needle-Free Flu Vaccine in the Mail? It Might Happen

      Instead of visiting the doctor each fall, sitting in a waiting room filled with the sniffling, sneezing masses -- what if you could just slap on a flu vaccine "patch" sent in the mail? More...

    • New One-Dose Flu Drug Shows Promise

      An experimental single-dose flu drug shows promise as a new way to alleviate the misery of influenza, researchers say. More...

    • All Children Should Receive Flu Vaccine ASAP, Doctors Advise

      All children 6 months of age and older should have a flu shot, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says. More...

    • Steer Clear of Obese Friends With the Flu

      Excess weight boosts the odds of flu complications, but that's not all. Obese adults are contagious for much longer than their slim peers, researchers report. More...

    • Who Will and Who Won't Get the Flu?

      Doctors can't yet predict if someone exposed to the flu will become sick. But such predictions may be getting closer to reality, new research hints. More...

    • Pediatricians Back Flu Shot, Not Nasal Spray Vaccine

      Parents should choose to have their children get the flu shot in the fall instead of the nasal spray flu vaccine, pediatricians say. More...

    • Humidity Won't Hamper Spread of Flu Virus

      Humidity does not hinder the ability of flu viruses to infect people, claims a new study that challenges a long-held belief that the viruses become less active in moist conditions. More...

    • Could Rover Unleash a Flu Pandemic?

      Dog lovers might be distressed by the latest research on flu pandemics. More...

    • Kids With Asthma Need a Flu Shot: Study

      An annual flu shot is key for children with asthma, a new study shows. More...

    • Many, But Not All, Hospitals Require Flu Shots for Staffers

      With the terrible flu season a fresh memory, a new study finds that more U.S. hospitals are requiring staffers to get flu shots, but VA hospitals lag behind. More...

    • Scientists Are Targeting the Common Cold

      British researchers have developed a molecule they claim could make colds a thing of the past. More...

    • Flu Vaccines Have High Impact, Even With Relatively Low Efficacy

      Even relatively low-efficacy influenza vaccines can have a high impact, especially with optimal distribution across age groups, according to a study published online April 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More...

    • Even a 'Bad' Flu Vaccine Could Save 61,000 Lives: Study

      A truly dismal flu vaccine could still save thousands of lives, as long as roughly 40 percent of Americans got their shots, new research suggests. More...

    • What You Need to Know About Fever in Adults

      When it comes to a fever, what's true for kids isn't necessarily so for adults. More...

    • Recombinant Influenza Vaccine Found to Be Safe in Children

      The recombinant influenza vaccine is well tolerated in children aged 6 to 17 years, and it provides immunogenicity comparable to that of the inactivated vaccine, according to a study published online April 2 in Pediatrics. More...

    • With Warmer Weather Comes Wrap-Up of Severe Flu Season

      Spring continues to take the bite out of this year's brutal flu season, new numbers show. More...

    • End of Brutal Flu Season in Sight

      It's been a particularly tough flu season, but spring -- and real relief -- may be near, new numbers show. More...

    • More Bad Flu News: It May Raise Your Heart Attack Risk

      Suffering a nasty bout of the flu or pneumonia is bad enough, but now research suggests it might also spell trouble for your heart. More...

    • Study Debunks Link Between Tamiflu and Teen Suicide

      A new study suggests that Tamiflu (oseltamivir), the only commercially available prescription medicine approved to treat the flu, does not boost suicide risk among children and teens. More...

    • Flu Season Finally Slowing Down

      As winter nears its end so too does a tough flu season, with new data showing a decline in doctor visits and less severe strains of influenza beginning to dominate. More...

    • Fighting a Cold or Flu? Beware of Overdosing on Tylenol

      A brutal flu season has had people reaching for relief in their medicine cabinet, but a new study warns that overdosing on acetaminophen (Tylenol) is more common when bugs and viruses are circulating. More...

    • Increase in Acetaminophen Use, Overuse in Cold/Flu Season

      During cold/flu season there is an increase in acetaminophen use and overdosing, according to a study published online March 7 in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. More...

    • Nasty Flu Season Easing Up

      A brutal flu season looks to be on the wane in the United States, with the latest government data showing that doctor visits are still dropping and less severe strains of the flu are starting to dominate. More...

    • Young Men Face Higher Risk for Rare Flu Complication

      Young men recovering from the flu should be aware of a side effect that causes nerve damage, a health expert warns. More...

    • Nasty Flu Season Shows More Signs of Slowing

      The brutal flu season continues to ease its grip on the United States, with the latest government data showing that doctor visits are still dropping and less severe strains of the flu are starting to account for more infections. More...

    • Health Tip: When to Seek Medical Care if You Have the Flu

      Most cases don't require a visit to the emergency room, but the Red Cross says these symptoms require immediate medical care: More...

    • Flu Shot a Lifesaver for Heart Failure Patients

      If you're a heart failure patient, new research suggests you would be wise to get a flu shot every year. More...

    • Why the Flu Makes You Feel So Miserable

      If you're unlucky enough to come down with the flu, you can blame your own body for your fever, cough, muscle aches and head-to-toe distress, experts say. More...

    • Why Was This Year's Flu Shot So Weak? FDA Wants to Know

      With a nasty flu season still raging, it didn't help that this year's influenza vaccine was just 25 percent effective against H3N2, the dominant strain. More...

    • Flu Season Shows More Signs of Slowing

      If the latest government data on doctor visits is any indication, a brutal flu season may be starting to wane. More...

    • It's Still Not Too Late for a Flu Shot

      Even though it's the end of February, it's still not too late to get a flu shot, doctors say. More...

    • New Version of Nasal Flu Vaccine to Return for Next Season

      Doctors can offer patients a new version of the nasal spray flu vaccine FluMist next winter, a U.S. government advisory panel says. More...

    • Odds of ARDS Up After Cardiac Surgery During Flu Season

      Undergoing cardiac surgery during the influenza season is associated with increased likelihood of development of acute respiratory distress syndrome, according to a research letter published in the Feb. 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. More...

    • Even Hidden Flu May Trigger Trouble After Heart Surgery

      The flu virus -- even if it doesn't cause symptoms -- can lead to serious complications after heart surgery, a new study by Dutch researchers suggests. More...

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