Health Check

The difference between cold and flu

We’ve all been guilty of talking about cold and flu as if they are the same thing – but they’re actually two very different illnesses.

Written by Editor Medibank
A sick child in bed with a thermometer in his mouth

So, what’s the difference between cold and flu? Let's start with colds.

The common cold

Colds are very common, and almost everyone is familiar with the symptoms - a runny or blocked nose, sore throat, coughing and sneezing1. They usually last from one to three days, and sometimes you may also get mild fever or feel tired.

There are about 200 different viruses that cause colds, and while they do tend to make you feel a bit miserable, you can often ‘soldier on’.

The flu

Influenza, or the flu as it is more commonly know, is more serious. Symptoms of flu may hit very suddenly and you’re likely to experience a high fever, dry cough, body aches and feel extremely weak and tired. You may also experience congestion, a sore throat and chills.

It’s likely to send you to bed for a few days, and can sometimes leave you feeling terrible for a couple of weeks. The flu can also lead to complications like pneumonia and bronchitis2.

Watch Medibank expert Dr Zoy Boyatzis explain.

Luckily, you can protect yourself against the flu with a flu vaccination. You should get the flu vaccination each year because the flu virus is constantly changing and the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes over time.

It’s free for people at-risk, for example, elderly people and pregnant women. And many workplaces provide it to their staff members for free.

One thing cold and flu do have in common is the recommended treatment. They’re both viral infections. That means they can’t be treated with antibiotics, which only work against bacterial infections.

The flu is very contagious and easily spread, so it’s recommended that you stay at home during your recovery. Adults may be contagious from 24 hours prior to developing symptoms, up until 5-7 days after the symptoms of the flu have passed. Children and people with a compromised immune system may be contagious for longer, and you are at your most contagious while you have a fever3. Remember to always cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands regularly with soap to help prevent the spread of the flu.

While recovering at home, it’s best to get plenty of bed rest, drink lots of fluids and take some paracetamol to relieve the symptoms. However, if your symptoms persist or worsen, see your doctor.

Read more about natural cold and flu remedies or what causes other common conditions like dandruff, low blood pressure and anxiety.




Written by Editor Medibank

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