Cold and flu:
how to tell them apart

Cold and flu are infections that present certain similarities, but also many differences. Find out what they are here!

The flu or a cold?... That is the question

People often confuse the flu with a cold or use these terms interchangeably. Yet, they are two different infections that are not caused by the same virus.

The flu is caused by the influenza virus. A cold can be caused by different types of viruses, the most common ones belong to the rhinovirus family.

What are the high-risk periods?

Although the flu or a cold can occur at any time, these infections are most prevalent in the fall, winter, and spring. The flu strikes especially during the months of January, February, and March. Viruses are most often passed on from one person to another during the holidays.

The viruses responsible for a cold and the flu are often transmitted the same way, either by direct contact with an infected person or by an object recently contaminated by an infected person. The infections can be contracted when people rub their eyes, nose, or touch their faces with their hands. Therefore, it is important to wash hands often, especially when the risk of transmission is high.

A vaccine against the flu is available. Your pharmacist can provide you with information about its advantages and the vaccination services provided at the pharmacy. Fall is the best time to receive the vaccine. However, there is no vaccine available to protect against a cold.

What are the symptoms of the flu and a cold?

The flu and a cold have several common symptoms. However, significant differences can be observed regarding their effects.

SymptomsColdFlu
Rare, mild and transient
Sudden high fever (102ºF/38.9ºC to 104ºF/40ºC); lasts up to 3 to 4 days
Somewhat rare
Common, sometimes strong
Overall pain
Occasional, mild
Common, sometimes intense
Fatigue and weakness
Occasional, mild
Common, often strong; can be severe at the beginning and last several weeks
Common
Somewhat rare
Sneezing
Common
Somewhat rare
Sore throat
Very common
Common
Coughing
Mild, moderate and more rarely, severe
Strong most of the time; can be accompanied by respiratory problems

The complications also differ: a cold sometimes causes an ear or a sinus infection, for example, while the flu can cause other serious complications: pneumonia, respiratory failure, bloodstream infections, etc. Hospitalization is sometimes necessary and death may occur in the most serious cases.

What can be done to ease symptoms?

There is no treatment against the flu or a cold, since they are viral infections (and not bacterial), antibiotics have no effect on them. The immune system must fight the infection in order to eliminate it. However, it is possible to ease various symptoms, among other things, with the use of over-the-counter medications and products: antitussives, decongestants, expectorants, analgesics, saline solutions, etc.

Before taking medication, always speak to your pharmacist, who will be able to tell you which products can be effective and safe for you, taking into account your situation, age, medical history, health, and other medications you take. Don't let the flu and a cold get the better of you. Ease your symptoms and take charge of your recovery!

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Cold and flu: how to tell them apart

Cold and flu are infections that present certain similarities, but also many differences. Find out what they are here!
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