Let’s review … is it cold or is it flu?

Because it’s that time of year … let’s review … is it cold or is it flu?

So your throat is getting sore, you’re sniffling, feeling achy and reciting a mantra to yourself: “I’m not getting a cold, I’m not getting a cold.”

Much as you want magic or sheer will power to keep it away, it’s clear that you’re coming down with something!  Is it a cold or the flu? What’s the difference? (Updated from a previously published post)

Centuries ago, our ancestors did not have the knowledge of germs, bacteria or viruses and yet they understood that the flu and cold illnesses were different.

They thought one group of illnesses made the body temperature drop (so they called it a Cold).  The others made the body temperature rise (with fever).

They were right, in a way!  Colds are caused by adenovirus or coronavirus [and hundreds of subsets of those].  They are prevalent in winter and do not usually cause a fever. They are around more in the cold weather and do not make you hot = a cold!

Flu is caused by influenza virus.   Although both flu and colds are respiratory illnesses, colds tend to affect the sinuses; and flu affects the lungs.

The CDC makes it clear on it’s website that “flu vaccines are designed to protect against infection and illness caused by the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the flu season. ‘Trivalent’ flu vaccines are formulated to protect against three flu viruses, and ‘quadrivalent’ flu vaccines protect against four flu viruses. Flu vaccines do NOT protect against infection and illness caused by other viruses that can also cause flu-like symptoms. There are many other viruses besides flu viruses that can result in flu-like illness (also known as influenza-like illness or “ILI”) that spread during the flu season.”

In other words, one sniffle does not a flu make!

The words cold and flu are NOT interchangeable!   Fact is, there are hundreds of viruses and bacterial infections being sneezed about and they all look similar and make us feel miserable!

So if they all will make us feel miserable, why should we care whether it’s flu or a cold?  Simple.  Flu is much more severe, can develop into much worse complications, and can even kill people.thermometer-temperature-fever-flu

Knowing the symptoms of flu can get you and those you care about to the doctor in time to avoid complications.

So what IS the difference?  If you’re not looking at it under a microscope, how do you know if it’s a cold or a flu?  And if the flu shot isn’t going to protect you from colds, what should you do?

The most obvious differences are suddeness and severity.

The flu tends to hit hard and quickly.  One minute you are fine and the next, your throat is sore and your head aches, in fact everything aches and before you know it you have a fever.  In no time at all you are really miserable and very sick.

Fever is is major clue!  Colds seldom develop fevers in adults.  (Children react differently as they are building their immune systems.   You can expect young children to get about 8 colds per year as they build their immunity!)

A cold might begin with a sore throat (not usually and not severe) but tends to develop into a sniffle early on. You don’t feel good but, you are not too bad either.

It is important to note that if you develop flu symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.  There are antivirals available that can significantly lessen the length and severity of the flu IF TAKEN IN FIRST 48 HOURS.

Know the Symptoms of Flu

Typical season: Nov through Jan
Sudden onset
Sore throat, severe
Fever, high
Chills, common
Headache, common
Joint pain, severe and common
All-over achy, severe and common
Vomiting and diarrhea (common in children)
Stuffy nose, not usually
Can last up to 3 weeks!
Complications, common and severe:
respiratory failure
heart failure, infection in heart (6 X more likely to have heart attack!)
infection in muscles

Know the Symptoms of a Cold

Typical season: winter months
Slow onset
Sore throat, maybe, slight
Fever, typically not in adults (low in children)
Chills, never
Stuffy nose, common
Runny nose, common
Headache, not usually but maybe sinus irritation headache
Joint pain, never
All-over achy,  mild if at all
Vomiting and diarrhea, never
Coughing, from post nasal drip
Can last up to 7 – 10 days typically
Complications, common:
secondary bacterial infection of throat
infection of sinuses (sinusitis)
ear infection

You Know the Symptoms. Now What?

Even if you had a flu shot, you can still develop flu.  It is important to note that if you develop flu symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

There is a brief, 48- hour, window of opportunity where antivirals  can significantly lessen the length and severity of the flu and make it much less likely that you will develop complications.

Complications of flu are hardest on the very young, the elderly and those with other underlying illnesses.  Take extra precaution with people in these groups who have flu symptoms.

Pneumonia in the elderly often disguises itself as a pain in the abdomen.  They may have no cough but could be confused and delirious.

If you develop flu, do yourself the service of staying home.  See the doctor and do what you can to NOT develop complications.  Do the rest of the world the favor of staying home!  Do not go to work and be a martyr and spread it around.  Your flu may kill a coworker!

Another illness that begins with a sore throat and fever is strep throat.  The main thing to note is that with strep, there is the severe sore throat without the other symptoms of a cold.  Then a rash develops on the face or upper body and a strawberry tongue in the mouth.  See your doctor.  Complications include scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, heart and kidney damage.

That old saw that your momma told you about “feed a cold, starve a fever” – please don’t starve anyone!  Try your best to eat.  Your body needs fuel to heal.  You need liquid too, lots of it.  That is why  soup is a good choice for people who have cold or flu.  (Momma was right on that one!)

I wish you a cold-free, flu-free, healthy winter!

Click here for more information from the Centers for Disease Control.




Patt Timlin is a marketing expert set on sharing her expertise with other online marketers to help them achieve the dream of working online. She is secretly pleased with the surge in content marketing as revenge of the English majors! Entrepreneur, blogger, guide, helper – Patt loves the online world and loves to share it!

Patt is the author of:


Spot4connectionsblog [focus beginners online]


Work At Home Product Guide 

Patt Timlin Online 

BloggerPatt! [just for the fun of it!]

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