What is a cold?
The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract (the breathing system that includes your nose and throat). It is caused by one of more than 200 viruses. Symptoms come on gradually.
What is the flu?
Also known as influenza, the flu is a respiratory illness that affects the breathing system (nose, throat, and lungs). It is contagious and is caused by one of several strains of the influenza virus. Symptoms come on suddenly and can lead to a more serious illness.
Symptoms of the cold and of the flu are alike. You can tell them apart using a chart that compares the flu vs. the common cold.
What to do if you’re sick
Now that you know if you have the cold or flu, what do you do?
Since both are caused by viruses, antibiotics may not be needed. Instead, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter medications may help ease symptoms, but contact your health care provider if you have a persistent fever, if you don’t feel better after a few days, if symptoms get worse, or if you belong to a high risk group (children under five, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions).
How to keep from getting sick
- get the flu shot
- wash hands with soap often
- clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub
- cough or sneeze into your elbow
- avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth
- sick stay home if you’re sick
- keep commonly touched surfaces disinfected and clean
- take care of yourself – get lots of rest, eat well, and be physically active