Colds and the flu run rampant and are quite contagious even before symptoms appear in some cases. However, there is quite a bit of difference in the management, possible complications and prevention of these two illnesses. How can you tell the difference? While some cases may be difficult to differentiate, others may very clearly denote either a common cold or full-blown influenza.
What season is it? Health organizations everywhere warn the general population about flu season. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In the Northern hemisphere, winter is the time for flu. While flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later.” While colds also seem to have a higher incidence rate during the winter, they can occur at any time of year — in fact, some viruses that can cause a cold are most prolific in the spring.
How is your activity level? If you are able to function relatively normally, or are only slowed down by a level of fatigue that can be relieved by a few hours of bed rest, chances are you have a cold. On the other hand, if you ache all over and can’t move without feeling the need to vomit or flee to the bathroom with intestinal cramps, flu is a very real possibility.
What are your symptoms? Influenza and cold are both associated with a host of varying symptoms because each is caused by a wide variety of viral strains. However, the most common symptoms with a cold are generally respiratory — cough, sneezing, sinus congestion and headache, sore throat — while the flu tends to be more gastrointestinal. Flu symptoms usually include a fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and possibly sweating and shivering.
Have you been vaccinated? The flu vaccination is not a 100 percent guarantee against contracting the flu, but as long as the correct seasonal flu strains were identified, it is usually a strong defense against falling ill with influenza. No vaccination will protect against a cold. If you’ve already been vaccinated and have flu-like symptoms after the first 48 hours (the shot itself can produce some flu-like symptoms), then you may have a cold or other non-flu virus.