The common cold and the flu are both cause by viruses and are both respiratory illnesses. Many of their symptoms can be similar so it can be hard to distinguish between them. The flu is generally a more serious virus and can result in complications so it's important to familiarise yourself with both the similarities and the differences of these illnesses.
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There are about 200 different viruses that can cause the common cold. The most common viruses are:
There are many types of viruses that have not been identified, and these unknown one's account for 20-30% of colds.
In contrast there are only three viruses that can cause the flu. These are:
Both the common cold and flu affect the respiratory system, so some of the symptoms are very similar. The flu however tends to be more serious. The most frequently experienced symptoms of the common cold are:
The most frequently experienced symptoms of the flu are:
It's possible to experience some of the more flu like symptoms when you've got a cold such as a high temperature, muscle aches and weakness. Those with the flu can also experience some cold like symptoms such as congestion, sore throat and cough. For this reason, it can be sometimes difficult to tell them apart. The following are some of the key differences that may help you in identifying which you have:
|Flu Symptoms||Cold Symptoms|
|Come on suddenly||Come on gradually|
|Include headache, fever and aches||Mainly affect your nose and throat|
|Difficult to carry on your normal activities as feel too unwell||Mild enough to generally carry on your usual activities and go to work|
With both the cold and flu you can usually manage the illness at home yourself and will start to feel better after a week. Try and make sure that you:
There are some non-prescription medications that help with the symptoms of the common cold and flu. These include:
Because both colds and flus are viruses, antibiotics will only be prescribed if you've a secondary infection. They will not help alleviate your cold or flu. In the case of the flu, it's possible that it can develop into serious illnesses like pneumonia. Because you may be at higher risk of becoming very ill, it's advised that the following people see their GP once they notice flu symptoms:
If you are in one of these at risk groups, there are antiviral medications such as Tamiflu that your doctor can prescribe. This works by preventing the virus multiplying in the body, which can help halt the virus, shorten the illness and relieve symptoms.
Good hygiene can help prevent the spread of colds and flus and avoid them being passed from person-to-person. This includes:
For the flu, you can get an annual vaccine, which can help immunise you. It's not 100% effective as it doesn't cover all types of flu virus, but it will reduce your risk. For certain at risk groups who have been exposed to the virus or in the case of a flu outbreak, antiviral medications such as Tamiflu can also be prescribed preventively.