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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

  • 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...

  • 17 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...

    • 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...

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