Cold and Flu

What is Flu (Influenza)?

The flu (influenza) is caused by a respiratory virus that usually occurs in the Northern Hemisphere between October and April. There are two types, A or B and the severity varies from year to year.  Unlike the common cold, the flu begins suddenly with high fever, body aches and fatigue.

What is the Common Cold?

The common cold is a viral syndrome that causes over 90% of the nasal congestion, low grade fever, chills, sore throat and general aches and pains that people experience. Because it is caused by a virus, it is not affected by the use of antibiotics. A cold usually resolves in 7-10 days.

For information about COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Prevention and Precautions

Guard against getting colds and flu by eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, decreasing stress, and limit or do not use of tobacco products or smoke. Limit the spread of infection by avoiding crowded places and wash your hands often. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Stay home if you feel sick, except to seek medical care.

One of the best ways to help protect yourself and the Mason community is to get your flu shot each year. SHS offers flu shots for students, faculty, and staff; available seasonally while supplies last. The flu shot helps your body make antibodies to the Flu. Since new strains of the influenza virus develop each year, the vaccine must be updated and given yearly.  Flu Shots are offered starting around the end of September through the season til March or April.

Cold vs. Flu Signs and Symptoms

People who have the flu or a cold often experience some or all of these signs and symptoms. Some people who have the flu may also have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

SymptomsFLU (Influenza)COLD
OnsetSuddenGradual
Fever> 101°F (37.8°C), lasting 3-4 daysNone or < 101°F (37.8°C)
CoughDry, sometimes severe, can last up to 2-3 weeksHacking
HeadacheYes, commonNot common
Body achesYes, common, can be severeNot common or mild
Tiredness and weaknessVery tired, can last 2-3 weeksMild, brief - lasting less than 1 week
Stuffy nose (congestion) SometimesCommon
Sore throatSometimesCommon

When Should You Seek Medical Attention

Some symptoms of COVID-19 and flu can be similar. If you feel sick or think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, call your healthcare provider for medical advice and testing as recommended.

Most healthy adults can manage a mild to moderate flu-like illness at home with general self-care practices.  Generally, the flu symptoms will peak (be the worst) around 48 hours or 4 days and then should begin to get better. Each day should be a better day after the illness peaks. If your symptoms get worse or last a long time, get medical attention by contacting Student Health Services or another doctor or clinic.

Contact your doctor immediately if you have a known medical condition such as pregnancy, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, kidney disease or any other disease that may affect your immune system.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any worsening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness, increased or persistent headache, neck stiffness or rash.

Tips for Feeling Better

Have a cold or the flu? Remember, stay home if you feel sick. These self-care tips may help you start feeling better in addition to knowing how to choose the right over-the-counter medication to help with symptom relief.

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