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Published on October 30, 2018

Is It a Cold or Flu?

Although the common cold and the flu are both contagious viral infections, flu symptoms often come on suddenly and are much worse.  Symptoms of the flu can begin from 1 to 4 days after the flu virus enters the body and usually begin suddenly.

Here, Chanda Newsome, Director of Infection Control at Wayne UNC Health Care, helps us understand the difference between cold and flu symptoms.

“Most people think influenza is just a bad cold, but it really isn’t,” Newsome says. “If you have a sudden or quick onset of body aches, headache, fatigue and chills, there is a very good chance that it may be the flu and not just a common cold.”

Symptoms of the flu will begin one to four days after the virus enters the body and include the following:

  • Body aches
  • Weakness or extreme fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Dry cough

Protect Yourself from the Flu

The best way to protect against the flu is to get an annual flu shot.

Every year, researchers assess the most prevalent flu viruses that have been circulating and determine which flu viruses should be considered when producing the vaccine for the next flu season.

“It’s a bit of an educated guess, really. It’s based on what’s happening at that moment and what flu viruses have been circulating throughout the world,” Newsome says.

Flu vaccines are not ‘live’ vaccines and they will not give you the flu.  They are ‘dead’ or ‘inactivated’ vaccines that enable the body to recognize and develop antibodies against the flu strains that are contained in the vaccine.  These antibodies become our defense against the flu.

There are several different seasonal or annual flu vaccines available.  They provide protection against both A and B flu viruses.  To find out what the best flu vaccine is for you, contact your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

Everyone 6 months of age and older should receive an annual flu vaccine, especially those at high risk of catching the flu or experiencing serious complications.  This includes older adults, people with chronic lung or immune-suppressing conditions such as diabetes, pregnant women and young children.

It is important to get vaccinated as early in the flu season as possible, before you come in contact with the virus. The flu vaccine is 40 to 60 percent effective, and the most common side effects are redness, soreness and swelling at the injection site.

Although you can’t get the flu from the flu shot, it does take about two weeks for your body to develop the antibodies needed to protect you against the flu.  During this time, you can feel as if you are getting ill.  This is just your body producing those antibodies and learning to the fight the flu.

Cold or Flu Graphic

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