Colds & Flu

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”

- Jim Rohn

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

Hands with tea cup

As winter sets in, people prepare for the cold and flu season.

Colds and the flu are both caused by viruses, and they can have some similar superficial similarities, but there’s a major difference between the two: a cold is usually just a real nuisance, whereas the flu can have serious complications.

Interestingly, cold and flu viruses both change from season to season, so it’s unlikely that all the symptoms will be the same from year to year.

Let’s start with some of the similarities between a cold and the flu:

They’re both highly contagious, and are caused by several different viruses. Sneezing and nasal congestion, a sore throat and a cough are typical of a cold, and sometimes of the flu.

But there are more differences than similarities between a cold and the flu:

People with flu often have a high fever, they sweat, they suffer from fatigue and muscle aches, have bad headaches, and start feeling ill very suddenly. In fact, having the flu is often compared to the feeling of being hit by a bus – one moment you’re fine and the next you’re not. People with colds very seldom have these symptoms.

One of the biggest problems with flu is that it often leads to secondary bacterial infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. These infections can be treated with antibiotics, whereas antibiotics have no effect on viral infections.

A cold is usually over in two to four days, whereas a serious bout of flu could knock you for two to three weeks.

People in high-risk groups, e.g. young children, older people and those with immune systems under pressure, are advised to get the flu vaccine at the start of winter every year. Even if you’re a healthy adult, it’s a good idea to get your annual flu shot.

(Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to provide general background information and not to substitute any medical diagnosis or advice received from a qualified healthcare professional.)


– Drs Maritz, Jean and Maree, Leana. What is flu? (2010) Health24. [Online] Available at: Accessed: 28 July 2015
– Weinberg, Eugene Professor. Colds. (2011) [Online] Available at: Accessed: 28 July 2015

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