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What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza (“the flu”) and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses caused by viruses. Because these two illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart based on symptoms alone.

In general, the flu is more serious than the common cold. People with colds are more likely to suffer from runny or stuffy noses. Additionally, colds generally don’t result in serious health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations.

The flu, on the other hand, is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs). Flu symptoms tend to develop quickly—typically one to four days after a person is exposed to the flu virus—and are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and congestion associated with a cold.

Influenza is often accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common symptoms in children

How Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby. Less often, people contract the flu by touching surfaces or objects that have the virus on them, then touching their own mouths, eyes or noses.

How Serious is the Flu in Children?
Children have the highest chance of getting sick from the flu and often spread the germs throughout their communities. During particularly severe flu seasons, about 30 percent of school-aged children get sick. Although vaccines have been proven to reduce flu-related missed school days by 47 to 56 percent, not enough children are vaccinated annually against the illness. As a result, children sick with the flu miss about 38 million school days every year. Consider these other facts:

Influenza is one of the leading causes of infectious disease hospitalizations among young children. Approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized due to the flu each year. Infants and toddlers are hospitalized as a result of influenza at rates similar to elderly people and at higher rates than people of all other ages.

On average, nearly 100 children die in the United States from influenza and its complications every year.

Importance of Vaccine
An annual flu vaccination can help prevent the spread of influenza between individuals and may help save lives.

The information provided in this article can be found at and Please visit these sites for additional cold and flu facts and resources.



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