Cold vs. Flu

Woman sneezing into tissue

Do you have the flu or is it just a common cold? Knowing the difference can have a big impact on your health this flu season. The team at Baptist Medical Group explains what you need to know as you decide how to treat your symptoms. 

Q: What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
Both the cold and flu viruses enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes. A cold is a much milder illness of the respiratory tract than the flu. A cold usually starts off with a sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, cough and only occasionally a slight fever. Symptoms can evolve over 4 to 5 days and usually last for about a week.

In contrast to the common cold, the flu is more severe and symptoms come on much quicker. Symptoms include sore throat, fever of 100 to 102 degrees, headache, moderate to severe fatigue, body and muscle aches and pains, nasal congestion, cough, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The fatigue and weakness can last up to 2 to 3 weeks! Not uncommonly, the flu can lead to sinus infections, bronchitis and pneumonia, especially in the elderly, the very young and those with underlying medical problems.

Q: Who should get vaccinated and how often?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease.

Six ways you can avoid the flu:

1. Avoid close contact.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick.

If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.

3. Cover your mouth and nose.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands.

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

For more information or to schedule an appointment at Baptist Medical Group.

Flu vaccine and prevention information: CDC,