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

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  • 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...

  • 34 More
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    • 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

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

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

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      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...

    • AHA News: Flu Shot May Help Protect Vulnerable Hospital Patients From Heart Attack, Mini-Stroke

      Hospital patients at high risk for influenza had lower rates of death, heart attack, mini-stroke and cardiac arrest if they were vaccinated against flu during their hospital stay, a new study has found. More...

    • Could the Flu Shot Lower Your Risk for Alzheimer's?

      Getting vaccinated to protect against pneumonia and flu may offer an unexpected benefit -- a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests. More...

    • Is a 'Universal' Flu Vaccine on the Horizon?

      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

      The new coronavirus is more infectious than the flu and appears to strike with much more severity in certain vulnerable groups. More...

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

      It's been overshadowed by the new coronavirus outbreak in China, but this year's flu season could be near its peak after surging throughout the United States for months. More...

    • 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...

    • Flu Vaccine Making a Strong Showing This Season

      Though a severe flu season is now in full swing in the United States, a new government report delivers a bit of good news: This year's vaccine is working well against the viruses that are circulating. More...

    • Were You Born in an H1N1 Flu Year or an H3N2? It Matters

      The first type of influenza virus you're exposed to may set your lifetime ability to fight the flu. More...

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

      Folks fretting about the coronavirus are forgetting there's another virus already running rampant in the United States, one that's killed nearly 20 times as many people in this country alone. More...

    • Got Flu? Deal Quickly With Complications

      Fighting the flu can be an unpleasant experience -- but the misery may not stop there. More...

    • Your Game Plan for Keeping 'Super Bowl Flu' at Bay

      Don't get tackled by the flu if you go to a Super Bowl party this weekend. More...

    • Healthy Living Helps Keep the Flu at Bay

      This flu season arrived early and hit children hard, but experts say you can dodge the flu by boosting your immune system. More...

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

      This flu season is hitting children particularly hard, but new research shows that a flu shot is still well worth it for these youngest patients. More...

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

      How bad or how long this year's flu season will be remains to be seen. But one thing is already clear: It's proving to be an especially lethal season for infected children. More...

    • 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...

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