Health Topics Information

Is it Flu or a Cold?

Is it Flu or a Cold?

Influenza is a respiratory infection caused by a contagious virus that comes on rather suddenly with fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, or a headache. A cold is also a contagious virus that attacks the nose and throat, causing inflammation and mucous.

Influenza is commonly called the “flu”. Many people think the flu is nausea, vomiting and diarrhea or “stomach flu”. “Stomach flu” is known as gastroenteritis in health care. Influenza is caused by a virus and although it is different than the common cold, a stuffy or runny nose, post nasal or sinus drainage, cough and sore throat are symptoms common to both. Fever (i.e., temperature over 100.4oF), cough, sore throat, body aches, and headaches are the most common symptoms of the flu. The flu can last from 2 to 5 days but it may take some individuals a week or longer to feel normal. The flu can be treated with Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, although many people do get over the flu with measures such as getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking Tylenol or ibuprofen as needed for aches and pain.

There are over 200 organisms that can cause cold symptoms. Cold symptoms are runny and/or stuffy nose, post nasal or sinus drainage in the throat, scratchy throat, sneezing, and maybe a cough. Colds can last several weeks no matter what you do. Adults usually do not have a high fever with colds; children may have fevers since they have not had as much exposure to cold and flu as adults.

The flu shot can be given to prevent the flu. A flu shot cannot give you the flu because it is made from an inactivated virus. Vaccination is important in preventing the flu. Some adults can miss a week or more of work if they get the flu. Even healthy people need the shot because anyone can get the flu. The most contagious period of the flu course is 24 hours before you have any symptoms at all. That’s how the flu can spread in schools and workplaces. Hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes can help decrease the spread of the flu. Antibiotics do not help the flu since the flu is a virus.

The Convenient Care Clinic on the second floor at 310 North 9th St. (9th St. and Rosser Ave) in Bismarck can evaluate and treat colds and flu for anyone age 5 and older. We are also available to set up a flu shot clinic in your place of business to make it more convenient for employees to get their flu shots. The CDC reports that the flu costs employers $16.3 billion in lost wages annually. That does not include the medical costs of $10.4 billion.