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Public Health Preparedness

COLD VERSUS FLU

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can be carried out, when needed to tell if a person has the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold?

In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

Is it a Cold, the Flu, Whooping Cough, or Norovirus?

Cold Symptoms Flu Symptoms Pertussis Gastrointestinal (Norovirus, "stomach flu")
Low or no fever High fever May or may not have fever Low grade or high grade fever
Sometimes a headache Always a headache No headache Usually headache
Stuffy, runny nose Clear nose or stuffy nose Runny nose None
Sneezing Sometimes sneezing No sneezing None
Mild, hacking cough Cough, often becoming severe Severe cough (coughing fit/spasm, vomiting/spitting up, gasping, can't catch breath, cough worse at night) None
Slight aches and pains Often severe aches and pains Not common Usually mild to severe aches and pains
Mild fatigue Several weeks of fatigue Fatigue due to excessive coughing Mild to moderate fatigue
Sore throat Sometimes a sore throat May or may not have a sore throat None
Normal energy level Extreme exhaustion Low energy due to cough  
None None Sometimes Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea



Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services is committed to providing equitable, culturally competent care to all individuals served, regardless of race, age, sex, color, national origin, religion, height, weight, marital status, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Links to external sites do not constitute endorsements by Kalamazoo County.

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