Cold versus Flu?

Published 12/01/2019

Colds and flu look alike

It can be tricky to tell a common cold and the flu apart because they share a lot of similar symptoms. Although they’re different illnesses caused by different viruses, both can cause cough, sore throat, sneezing, fever, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills, tiredness, diarrhea, and vomiting. In fact, it can be difficult even for doctors to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.

Which symptoms you get and how sick you feel will depending on many things, including your overall health, how long you've been sick, and whether you also have a bacterial infection (like sinusitis, ear infection, or pneumonia).

Although some people can get mild cases of flu and some will have more severe colds, here’s a helpful breakdown of general differences to look for:

Common cold Flu (including seasonal and H1N1 influenza)
Usually milder illness Usually illness is worse than common cold
Often develops over a few days Often develops suddenly and quickly grows worse
These symptoms are less common and more mild: fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, dry cough These symptoms are more common and intense: fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, dry cough
More likely to have runny or stuffy nose Less likely to have runny or stuffy nose
Generally does not result in serious health problems Can result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalization

When to contact your doctor

Antiviral medicines can help prevent serious health problems from the flu, but they work best if you take them within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms. So If you’re worried about whether you have the flu, call your doctor or health care provider as soon as symptoms appear, especially if:

  • You have a chronic health condition and have fever plus either cough or sore throat, or
  • Your symptoms are more severe than usual, or
  • Your symptoms are lasting longer than usual, particularly if you were getting better then started getting worse

You can help fight the flu

If you think you have the flu, you might be eligible to be part of the Seattle Flu Study: a city-wide effort to understand how the flu spreads and to develop innovative ways to fight it. It’ll only take a few minutes of your time, and you can do it from home. Join us today!

Join the Study

Source: The full article can be found here, from Public Health - Seattle & King County.

Help us track the flu in Seattle. We need you.