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.

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. Wear a face mask if you must be around others.

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 naturally 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
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, visit our Isolation Guidance webpage for information.

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 2- 4 days after symptoms begin and then should start 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 healthcare professional.

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. Self-care practices may help you start feeling better.

What medicine will help my symptoms?

Many cold and flu medicines are available “over the counter.” Over-the-counter medicine is usually located in a retail store and you can buy it without a prescription from a healthcare provider. But, when you feel sick and are in front of store shelves filled with medicines….how can you choose the one that will best help you?

Check the ACTIVE INGREDIENTS label. This will be the actual or generic name for the drug. This is not the “brand name” marketed by a specific company.

IMPORTANT!  Read labels carefully and follow the instructions. Many medicines can contain similar drugs. Avoid doubling-up on medicines that have the same ingredient.  Some medicines can also interact with prescription medications you may be taking, or cause side effects like drowsiness or insomnia.

Fever, pain, sore throat, body aches  Pain reliever (analgesic) Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen
Coughing Cough suppressant Dextromethorphan (DM)
Runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing Antihistamine Diphenhydramine
Thins out mucus Expectorant Guaifenesin
Congested nose and chest, sinus or facial pressure Decongestant (D) Phenylephrine or Pseudoephedrine