The Essentials

Colds and Flus are the general common names for certain types of viruses.


Seasonal Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is an illness caused by a particular family of viruses. About 1/3 or people who become infected with the virus do not have any signs or symptoms, but for those who do, symptoms can vary.

Usually 1-2 days after infection chills, or sometimes fever, are the first symptoms to set in. From there, symptoms can include cough, nasal congestion, headache, fatigue, and body aches. More commonly in children, but in adults as well, there are sometimes gastrointestinal issues such as stomach cramp or diarrhea.
Though it can be difficult to distinguish between colds and flu during the initial stages of illness, influenza is generally categorized by a high fever with a sudden onset of muscle ache and extreme fatigue.


Though also caused by a virus, the symptoms of the common cold are slightly different from that of influenza. Also known as rhinopharyngitis, nasopharyngitis, and acute coryza, there are more then 200 viruses thought to be involved in infection, with rhinoviruses being the most common (rhino means nose in Latin-think stuffiness!) .

Unlike flu, a cold is mostly a respiratory illness, with cough, runny nose, sore throat, and nasal congestion being the most common symptoms. Loss of appetite, headache, muscle ache, and fatigue can also be present, though not as commonly. Fever can also be present, though this is more common in children then in adults.

Catching Cold, Getting the Flu

There are 3 main routes of infection: Direct (sneezing into someones eyes, nose, mouth), Airborne (inhaling droplets), or Indirect (shaking someones hand).

Though it varies somewhat, once you have the virus you can be infectious from 1 day before symptoms appear, and become most infectious during fever (so for pete's sake, don't go to work while your sick!).

Children are more infectious than adults due to the nature of how they deal with the virus. They are also able to transmit the virus longer, for 2 weeks as opposed to the 1 week in adults.

The Antibiotics Issue

Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Colds and flus are caused by viruses. That being the case, unless you are unlucky enough to have a bacterial infection at the same time, taking antibiotics is probably not going to do much for you're cold or flu symptoms.

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