Is it a cold or the flu? How to tell the difference between the symptoms

This is a question that often comes up in late fall and especially during winter, when virus outbreak season hits. As the symptoms are largely similar: stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, fatigue, fever, it is important to be able to tell the difference to better treat each of these infections.

The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses while the flu is caused by a single virus. Even though the flu virus mutates from year to year, it is easier to make a vaccine against the flu than against cold or cold viruses (below is a photo of a cold virus).

In terms of frequency, a person catches about 1 episode of flu per year, while the common cold often occurs 2 to 4 times during the year in adults and 6 to 10 times in children. The main difference between the flu and the common cold is how dangerous it is. The flu causes several thousand deaths a year in France.

The main symptoms of the common cold

The main symptoms of a cold are a sore throat, stuffy nose (the common cold), sometimes a headache and then a cough. These symptoms come one after the other, the cold usually starts with a sore throat and sometimes slightly swollen glands and then ends after a few days with a cough, of the greasy type. Fever is often low or non-existent. To summarize, the symptoms of a cold manifest themselves above the neck. The symptoms of this bad cold last about 8 to 10 days, sometimes less. When you have a cold, you still have the energy to get out of bed and walk around a bit.

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The main symptoms of the flu

During a flu, the symptoms arrive quickly and suddenly (within a few hours), unlike a bad cold. Cold symptoms are present (sore throat, stuffy nose, cough) but are also accompanied by a high fever, above 39°C, often with pain in the body, especially in the joints.

Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also possible flu symptoms. A person suffering from the flu will generally feel very tired. Rest is therefore essential for several days.

To sum up, the symptoms of a flu manifest themselves above and below the neck.

Flu symptoms usually last about ten days, but sometimes up to 2 to 3 weeks. When the fever stops without taking medication, it is possible to resume normal activities after about 24 hours. During the flu, you don’t have the energy to get out of bed or take a walk.

You should also know that the flu can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia. Less serious illnesses such as sinusitis and otitis can also be caused indirectly by the flu.


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