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The Difference Between Cold and Flu

Cold and Flu

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If you wake up with a few sneezes, coughing, and have the achy, fevering feeling – how do you determine whether you have cold symptoms or the flu?

Differentiating the symptoms of cold and flu is important. In 2017, there were 1,255 deaths due to influenza, and tens and thousands of people were hospitalised.  Luckily, the recent record shows that Australia has been Flu-Zero, and it has been more than a year since the last flu death in the country.

Colds and the flu are seasonal infections, and determining the difference between these two can be difficult. They share similar symptoms, which can easily be mistaken for one another. Knowing to spot whether it is a cold or the flu is critical so the right treatment can be applied.

Take a look at several signs to help you determine the difference between a cold and flu.


  1. Flu symptoms are severe and last longer than a cold.

Influenza symptoms are tested to be more severe and typically last longer than those of a cold. The common symptoms of flu may include fever, having fever chills, coughing, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, headaches, and fatigue, or extreme tiredness. Flu in children may cause them to experience diarrhea and vomiting.

The symptoms of cold, on the other hand, are similar to the flu but milder.

  1. Different Causes

There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold. These include rhinoviruses and some coronavirus (not the one responsible for novel coronavirus or COVID-19) that can enter the body and cause cold-like symptoms.

While influenza viruses are mostly responsible for the flu, three main types affect human beings: influenza A, B, and C. The most common type to occur during flu season are types A and B.

  1. Level of complications

Colds are typically contained and do not lead to further health issues. However, colds can increase the chance of asthmatics having an asthma attack. On the other hand, the flu can lead to severe health complications, including pneumonia and bacterial infections. Every year, flu-related complications lead to thousands of hospitalisations and deaths.

  1. Recovery period

The common cold can make you feel weak and lousy for a couple of days, while flu symptoms can make you downright sick for several weeks. In general, most people recover from colds in 2-3 days, while flu recovery usually lasts a few days to 2 weeks.

  1. Transmission

While viruses that cause a cold typically enter the body through the nasal area, the transmission of these two illnesses is pretty much the same. Both are contagious, and you can easily get them if you have close contact with someone who has the same virus. You can also get it if you breathe in respiratory droplets containing the virus or if you touch a contaminated surface.


Stop the Spread

If you have the flu or the common cold, try to minimise your risk of spreading it to others. It is particularly important, especially for those considered  ‘high risk’ of serious complications from these viruses. These include young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with existing medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Here are some steps to follow in an attempt to reduce the risk of spreading flu or cold virus.

  • Get vaccinated. Coordinate with your local hospital to find out the latest vaccine available.
  • Sneeze or cough into a tissue. Throw it immediately after use.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water. Do it especially after sneezing or after you blow your nose or cough.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling food and drinks.
  • Home is the best place to stay and contain the virus unless otherwise advised by your doctor. Staying at home will limit your contact with others, which reduces the transmission of the virus.

Learn more about flu and colds and their appropriate treatment in a First Aid course.

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