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Difference between Cold and Flu

By  , Expert Content
Aug 29, 2012
4.8 / 5(4 Ratings)

Difference between cold and flu

Cold and flu have many similar symptoms but flu is different from the common cold. Read to know the difference between cold and flu.

[Read: What is Cold and Flu?]

  • Flu is a viral illness caused due to any of the three types of influenza virus, that is type A, B, or C. Common cold is also a viral infection but it can be caused by several different types of viruses (>200 types). Rhinovirus is the commonest cause and it causes about 30%-35% of all adult colds. Other viruses which commonly cause cold are coronavirus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and parainfluenza virus.
  • Flu can cause epidemics and pandemics and the mortality can be high but common cold is a self-limiting illness which is more of a nuisance than actually a concern. 
  • There is no medication for treatment or prevention of common cold, and there is no real vaccine as well. Anti-viral medications (such as relenza, tamiflu and symmetrel) are effective for treatment and prevention of flu and the flu shot taken every year can protect you from type A and B flu viruses.

[Read: Symptoms of Cold and Flu]

  • The symptoms of cold develop slowly and are mostly self-limiting. Flu symptoms tend to be more severe. Symptoms of flu appear rapidly in the patient (within hours) but symptoms progress gradually in case of cold. Fever is often present in patients with flu but it is rare in case of cold. People with common cold tend to suffer from congestion in the nose, running nose, and sore throat. A person with flu is usually sicker and in severe cases the patient experiences joint pain and fatigue, respiratory symptoms such as the cough are worse and it can even cause deadly pneumonia, leading to respiratory failures or even deaths in extreme cases. Flu can affect the intestinal tract especially in kids who may develop diarrhoea and vomiting. As their gut is relatively immature they may absorb more of the virus and the virus causes disturbance of the gut function. Aches and pain, and fatigue are mild in cold, but these symptoms are common and often severe in flu.

[Read: Treatment of Cold and Flu]

  • Some differences between cold and flu symptoms are given below (in the table).

 

Some Cold and Flu Symptoms at a Glance

Symptoms

Cold

Flu

Aches, pains

Mild

Common, and can be often severe

Chest Discomfort

Mild to moderate

More common, can be moderate to severe

Chills

Rare

Occur often

Cough

Hacking cough (that is short, weak repeating cough), or productive cough (that is the cough has phlegm)

Dry, unproductive cough (that is cough is not associated with phlegm or expectoration)

Extreme exhaustion

Never

Occur early and is noticeable

Fatigue

Mild

Moderate to severe, which can for 2-3 weeks

Fever

Rare, and even when there is fever it tends to be mild or moderate

Common, and is usually high (102-104F or 39-40C); last for days.

Headache

Rare

Occurs often

Sneezing, running or stuffy nose

Common

Occasional

Sore throat

Common

Occasional

Other possible health problem

Mild self-limiting illness

Can cause complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalisations

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