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    Colds and the flu have so much in common that it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart. Both are caused by viruses that infect your airways. They have some of the same symptoms that can leave you feeling miserable.

    There are enough differences, though, that may help you figure out which one you have. That can make a difference in what you do to treat your symptoms and keep it from going around.


    You can get a cold anytime -- spring, summer, or fall, but most likely in winter. Flu season typically runs from November through March, although you can get the flu in October or as late as May.

    You can catch the flu at other times. But symptoms outside of flu season are more likely to be from a cold or an allergy.

    Flu symptoms usually come on faster than cold symptoms. Colds may take 2 or 3 days to develop. Normally, you start feeling the flu over just 2 to 3 hours.

    Flu tends to be much worse than a cold. And the flu, especially in children and older people, is more likely to lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia and a hospital stay.






    Fever between 100 and 102 F in most cases; typically lasts 3-4 days


    Not common

    About half of people with flu get them.

    Muscle or body aches

    Not common. If they do happen, usually mild

    Common and often severe


    Not common

    Most cases; may be sudden

    Fatigue, weakness

    May happen, generally mild

    Moderate to severe fatigue and weakness; may last up to 2-3 weeks


    Common, generally mild to moderate, usually produces phlegm

    Dry cough (no phlegm) that may be severe; may last several weeks

    Sneezing and stuffy nose

    Common. Stuffy nose may last about a week.


    Sore throat



    Chest discomfort

    Sometimes; generally mild

    Common; may be severe

    Vomiting and diarrhea


    Unusual; most often in children

    Rarely, symptoms may not be enough for your doctor to know if it's a cold or the flu. Then your doctor may do a test to find out what you have.

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