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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

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    Work is proceeding apace on a "universal" flu vaccine capable of protecting humans from all forms of influenza, researchers report. More...

  • H1N1 Flu Outbreak of 2009 Helped Ready U.S. Hospitals for Coronavirus

    As the new coronavirus spreads across the United States, leading health experts are noting that America has been here before -- and past lessons are helping officials prepare for today's crisis. More...

  • Is Coronavirus Really Like the Flu? Here's a Comparison

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  • Flu Season That's Sickened 26 Million May Be at Its Peak

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  • Could the Weather Swings of Climate Change Make Flu Seasons Worse?

    Climate change, and the sudden weather changes it brings, could fuel future flu epidemics, researchers warn in a new report. More...

  • 35 More
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    • There's a Virus Spreading in U.S. That's Killed 10,000: The Flu

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    • Got Flu? Deal Quickly With Complications

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    • A Flu Shot May Spare Your Young Child a Hospital Visit

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    • This Year's Flu Season Taking Deadly Aim at Kids

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    • A Workout Could Be Good Medicine for the Common Cold

      It might be the last thing you want to do when you are battling a cold, but exercise might actually make you feel better, suggests one health expert. More...

    • Millennials Most Likely to Skip Flu Shot, Believe 'Anti-Vaxxer' Claims: Poll

      Millennials are less likely to have had a flu shot this season and are more likely than other American adults to agree with some false anti-vaccination information, according to a new nationwide survey. More...

    • Universal Flu Vaccine Works in Mice

      An experimental flu vaccine gave mice long-lasting protection against six different flu virus strains, researchers report. More...

    • Flu Cases Surge Early, Could a Tough Season Lie Ahead?

      This year's flu season has already turned bad quickly, and experts worry the worst is still to come. More...

    • Cases of Flu Continue to Mount Across America

      Flu continues to spread throughout the United States and has reached elevated levels in nearly every state. More...

    • Many Child Care Centers Don't Require Flu Shots

      As an early flu season spreads its misery across the United States, new research shows that few child care centers require children or their adult caregivers to get a flu shot. More...

    • When Does Your Child's Flu Merit an ER Visit?

      It's hard not to worry when your child suffers from the flu, but pediatricians say too many parents are taking their sick kids to the emergency room when a doctor's visit would suffice. More...

    • Why Colds and Flu Seldom Strike at Same Time

      If you already have a cold, you're less likely to get the flu, and vice versa, a large new study shows. More...

    • Flu Cases Are Spiking Early, Suggesting Tough Season Ahead

      The flu season is off to a fast and furious start, with a strain of the virus that normally arrives later in the season making a strong early appearance, U.S. health officials said Friday. More...

    • AHA News: Flu Prevention Strategies Beyond Getting a Shot and Washing Your Hands

      It's cold and flu season, and the usual advice is being dispensed: Get the influenza vaccine, wash your hands regularly and avoid contact with anyone who's already sick. More...

    • Flu Season Starting to Ramp Up in the South

      Whether you have caught the flu yet this season might depend on where you live. More...

    • One-Third of Heart Patients Skip Their Flu Shot

      It seems like a no brainer: The flu shot protects heart patients from illness and death, so getting one should be the first thing they do every year before the season starts. More...

    • AHA News: Flu Shot May Aid Heart Bypass Recovery

      Getting a flu shot before heart bypass surgery can head off inflammation throughout the body and possibly lead to a healthier recovery, a new study suggests. More...

    • Health Tip: Cold, Flu or Allergy?

      Determining if you have a cold, the flu or an allergy can be difficult when you're having common symptoms, such as sneezing or a sore throat. More...

    • New Drug on the Horizon for Flu's Ills?

      Flu sufferers may soon have a new antiviral drug on hand to ease their fever, chills and body aches. More...

    • Get Vaccinated Before Flu Takes Hold: CDC

      If Australia was any indication, the flu season here will arrive early, so get your flu shot now, U.S. health officials said Thursday. More...

    • Flu Season Is Coming: Here's How to Protect Yourself

      If you don't want to be one of the 40 million Americans who get the flu each year, it's time to roll up your sleeve. More...

    • Health Tip: Seasonal Flu Vaccine Fast Facts

      Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and death, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More...

    • Only Thing Certain About Flu Season: You Need to Get Your Shot

      Although no one knows yet how severe this flu season will be, now is the time to get vaccinated, health officials say. More...

    • Got High Blood Pressure? Get Your Flu Shot

      If you have high blood pressure, getting a flu shot could save your life, researchers say. More...

    • 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...

    • 'Two Wave' Flu Season Unusually Long: CDC

      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...

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