Your nose is running, your throat feels rough and scratchy, and your head won’t stop pounding. You are wondering whether it is a cold or flu since the symptoms seem to overlap. In most cases, the early symptoms of either the cold or flu can be hard to distinguish unless a rapid flu test is carried out. By knowing how the two diseases affect our immune system, we can be able to understand the differences and the similarities between the two.
What is the common cold?
The reason a common cold is called “common” is because it is one of the leading causes of doctor’s visits, these consequently leads to missed school days and work. Unlike the flu, a cold dissipates quickly and the symptoms may take only two weeks. It also has mild health complications as compared to the flu.
There are several viruses that can cause the common cold, however, it is the rhinovirus which causes people to sniffle and sneeze and is highly contagious. Other pathogens responsible for the cold include coronaviruses and respiratory syncytial viruses.
When someones sneezes or coughs, virus-filled droplets fill the air and people in the vicinity risk getting infected. The virus can also be spread through surface contact of areas that have been touched by an infected person.
The cold will still be contagious as long as the person has the nasal discharge that contains the virus. The person becomes most contagious two to four days after the symptoms appear since the virus is more concentrated during this period. There are, however, cases of asymptomatic people who still retain the ability to be contagious.
Symptoms of the cold include:
- Sore throat
- Running or stuffy nose
- Mild to moderate fever
- Mild tiredness
- Headache or body aches.
What is the flu?
The flu or the influenza is a respiratory infection. It is more serious than a cold since when left untreated, may lead to pneumonia. This is especially true in older adults, young children, pregnant women and people whose immune system has been compromised with conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
A person can catch a cold any time of the year, however, the flu is seasonal and the season normally runs from fall to spring. The transmission methods are similar as to those of the common cold.
The flu is caused by the influenza virus whose strain varies from year to year. This is why you need to be vaccinated every year.
The contagious period of the flu runs from one day before the symptoms appear and up to seven days after the symptoms disappear. There are people who may not show any symptoms but still carry the influenza virus. Children have a longer contagious period of up to two weeks even before any symptom has appeared. Similarly, people whose immune system is compromised can also harbor the illness for a longer period of up to 10 days.
Flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Dry, hacking cough
- Shaking chills
- Moderate to high fever
- Severe body or muscle ache
- Profound fatigue
- Stuffy or running nose
The symptoms shared between the flu and the cold are coughs, running nose, fever, body ache, fever, headache and throat pains. Both the flu and the cold may lead to respiratory tract infections. It is good to note that it is not necessary for all the symptoms to occur and if in doubt, see a doctor.