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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

  • Aging Narrows Gender Gap in Flu Vaccine Response

    Here's some bad news for older women during flu season: Aging reduces the stronger immune response that women typically have to vaccination, a new study finds. More...

  • Flu Vaccine Safe During Pregnancy

    Pregnant women can take comfort in new findings that suggest flu vaccines won't harm their fetuses. More...

  • Many Health Care Workers With Flu, Colds Still Go to Work: Study

    Many health care workers are still on the job even if they have symptoms of a cold, flu or other respiratory infection, putting patients and coworkers at risk, a new study finds. More...

  • Vaping Habit Might Make You More Prone to Flu

    Steering clear of folks who are coughing and sneezing is one way to prevent catching the flu. Avoiding e-cigarettes may be another, new research suggests. More...

  • Drier Winter Air May Propel Flu's Spread

    That dry air your heating system sends throughout your home in the winter weakens your immune system, making you a prime target for viral infection. More...

  • 45 More
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      What looked like a mild flu season in December has turned into the longest flu season in five years, U.S. health officials report. More...

    • Do Hospitals Have Flu's Spread Under Control?

      Many hospital workers and patients spread the flu before they show any symptoms, a new study says. More...

    • U.S. Flu Season Ebbing, but Cases Still Widespread: CDC

      Though flu season has probably peaked, beware: Influenza is still widespread in much of the United States, federal health officials said Friday. More...

    • Heart Failure Hospitalizations Spike When Flu Season Peaks

      Weakened hearts grow weaker and fail when influenza rages throughout the land, a new study reports. More...

    • Reworked Nasal Flu Vaccine Looks Good for Kids, Pediatricians' Group Says

      Good news for kids: Next flu season, you can avoid a painful needle jab and get the nasal vaccine spray instead, according to a leading U.S. pediatricians' group. More...

    • Health Tip: Protecting Children from the Flu

      Flu season is in full swing. Thousands of children under the age of 5 have been hospitalized for the flu in the last decade, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. More...

    • More Severe Strain of Flu Starting to Spread Widely: CDC

      Americans aren't out of the woods yet, as the flu season continues to spread across the country, health officials reported Friday. More...

    • Flu Shot Much More Effective This Year, CDC Says

      This year's flu shot is already outperforming the vaccine issued during the tough 2017-2018 influenza season, federal health officials reported Thursday. More...

    • Got the Flu? You Probably Shouldn't Head to the ER

      Flu season is reaching its peak in the United States, which means emergency departments could fast become crowded with people who really aren't sick enough to be there. More...

    • How to Decide When You're Too Sick to Work

      Even if you think you can go to work when you have a cold or flu, you need to think about others, an infectious disease expert says. More...

    • Flu Season Far From Over, CDC Says

      Though much of the United States is in the grip of the flu, the season hasn't peaked yet, health officials said Friday. More...

    • Flu May Up the Odds of Stroke, Neck Artery Tears

      Flu can make you deathly ill, but it could also trigger a stroke or a rupture in your neck arteries, two new studies suggest. More...

    • Flu May Be a Factor in Many Kidney Failure Deaths

      Seasonal flu and other respiratory infections may be especially dangerous for kidney failure patients, researchers say. More...

    • Many Parents Wrong About What Prevents Colds in Kids

      No parent wants to see their child catch a cold, but some take prevention measures that have little basis in science, a new survey shows. More...

    • AHA: Taking Medicine for a Cold? Be Mindful of Your Heart

      But before you do, you need to consider how some over-the-counter cold medicines may impact your heart. More...

    • How Getting a Flu Shot Could Save Your Life

      It's not too late to get your flu shot, which can protect you in ways that may surprise you. More...

    • U.S. Flu Cases Hit 7 Million Mark: CDC

      The flu season is picking up steam, with about 7 million Americans having been struck by a strain of the flu virus, health officials said Friday. More...

    • Changes to Flu Shot Supply Chain Could Save Lives: Study

      Problems with flu vaccine distribution in the United States may cost lives and pose a serious threat in the event of a flu pandemic, researchers warn. More...

    • Mom-to-Be's Flu Can Harm Her Unborn Baby

      Pregnant women who get a flu shot protect not only themselves, but also their developing baby, health officials report. More...

    • Getting Flu Shot During Hospital Stay Is a Safe Bet

      Many doctors may worry about giving their hospital patients a flu shot, but a new study suggests they can relax. More...

    • Flu Shot Crucial for Those With COPD

      If you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a flu shot can be a lifesaver. But many of the millions with the lung condition don't get it, researchers report. More...

    • Flu Widening Its Grip on the United States: CDC

      The flu is now spreading throughout the United States, health officials said Friday. More...

    • Health Tip: Getting the Flu If You Have Cancer

      If you have had cancer, you are at a higher risk for developing flu-related complications, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. More...

    • Flu Rides the Subway, Too

      Flu spreads like wildfire in confined spaces -- and that includes subways, a new British study finds. More...

    • Can You Predict Your Common Cold Risk?

      How highly you rate your health could predict how likely you are to catch a cold -- and, even more important, how healthy you'll be in later years. More...

    • Flu Has Arrived for the Holidays, CDC Head Says

      The flu has ramped up in time for Christmas, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. More...

    • U.S. Flu Activity Low Right Now, but Rising: CDC

      Flu season is getting off to a slow but steady start, a U.S. health official said Friday. More...

    • Health Tip: Giving Cough Medicine to a Child

      It says some cough medicines could have life-threatening side effects, such as slowed breathing. This is especially true among babies and young children. More...

    • Nose Holds Clues to Baby's First Cold

      When a baby starts sniffling and sneezing, the type of bacteria in their nose may predict how long the cold will last, a new study finds. More...

    • Have Heart Failure? Flu Shot May Save Your Life

      If you have heart failure, a flu shot can truly be a lifesaver, researchers report. More...

    • 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...

    • 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...

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