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Best Ways to Tell the Difference Between the Flu and a Cold

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Flu season begins to increase around October and typically hits its peak between December and February. If you haven’t gotten your flu shot or if you think you may have the flu even after getting the shot, it can be hard to tell if you have the flu or just the common cold.

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Flu Season Is Here

Flu shots take about two weeks to provide protection. Discover 4 easy ways to get your flu shot at Ochsner.

How do you get the flu?

Transmission of the flu from one person to another is through respiratory particles, which are typically spread from sneezing or coughing.

How do you know if you have the flu?

Flu symptoms include:

  • body aches
  • fever, chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • nasal congestion.

These symptoms are usually abrupt but typically start with the first three (body aches, fever and chills) followed by cough, sore throat and congestion. If flu symptoms arise, you should contact your medical provider. Your provider may prescribe an anti-viral medication specifically for flu, which can decrease the duration of the symptoms.

What about the cold?

Common cold symptoms include:

  • Sore/scratchy throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Fever (not always, but it’s possible)

There is no treatment which can cure a common cold, so medicine is used to treat the symptoms.

What next?

Both the flu and the cold are caused by viruses and share some symptoms. However, cold symptoms are usually milder and not associated with complications such as pneumonia/hospitalizations as can be seen with the flu.

Remember to wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when sneezing and coughing to help limit spreading the virus to others. Proper hydration and rest will help you recover as well.

Learn more about flu shots at Ochsner.


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