Because they have several symptoms in common, we often confuse the flu with a cold.. But the differences between flu and cold are several and very obvious. Above all we could say that the flu is a stronger infection than a cold and its duration is shorter, but this would only be a way to summarize it.
The common respiratory symptoms are coughing, sneezing and colds, and both influenza and colds are infections caused by viruses. However, it is more the differences than the similarities that distinguish them.
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10 differences between flu and cold
There are several significant differences between the flu and colds.. Still, it is important to note that a cold does not cause complications on its own. In contrast, the flu can become very life-threatening for the elderly, infants or people with low immunity.
Undoubtedly, knowing what are the characteristics of flu and cold will help us to recognize warning signs. In this way, we will be able to treat one or the other virus properly and under medical supervision.
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1. Types of viruses
The first big difference between flu and cold is the viruses that cause them.. Among those that cause colds are rhinovirus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, coronavirus and parainfluenza. Cold viruses rarely lead to serious complications.
On the other hand, the virus that causes influenza belongs to the influenza virus family. Likewise, there are several subtypes of influenza capable of causing more serious conditions and ending in complications.
2. Onset of symptoms
The time it takes for symptoms to appear is another difference between the flu and a cold.. While in the common cold the signs appear between 24 and 72 hours, in the flu they appear suddenly.
It is evident then that they share similar symptoms, but even among these symptoms, there are some differences that can help us identify a flu from a cold.
3. Fever, the most evident symptom.
A person with the flu has a fever, as opposed to a person with a cold.. It may be that in some exceptional cases there is fever in adults with a cold, however it would be just a harmless fever. On the other hand, young children under 6 years of age may have it, although it also manifests itself in a mild form.
On the other hand, when a person has the flu, the temperature usually rises up to 38°, and in children it can reach 40°. Fever is a clear difference between flu and cold.
4. Headache and generalized malaise
It is common that with flu there is intense headache and a generalized malaise in the whole body.. Although colds can also present these symptoms, the intensity is less intense and does not impede daily activities.
This is where we see that this is one of the symptoms in which flu and cold are similar. But the intensity and annoyance may be an indication of whether it is a cold or flu symptom.
5. Cold and sneezing
When there is a cold, there is a cold and sneezing.. We know that with the flu, this is a symptom that may not exist.
This symptom is confusing and cannot be a clear parameter to determine whether there is flu or cold, as it may or may not exist in the case of flu. Therefore, here the difference between one and the other is unclear.
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6. Sore throat
Sore throat is one of the first symptoms to appear with a cold.. In the case of a cold, a cough may not appear.
To distinguish between flu and cold, it is necessary to observe the type of cough since in the case of flu, sometimes it is not manifested, or there may be a cough with phlegm. On the other hand, a cold almost always presents a dry cough.
Another clear symptom of flu is excessive weakness.. Meanwhile the flu may be present but it will be mild to moderate and unlike the flu, it will be short-lived.
You may notice that if a person feels unusually weak, they may be experiencing flu symptoms and require medical attention.
The most worrisome thing about the flu is its possible complications.. A very important thing to know is that a cold, being a common virus, may not require major medical attention. Even so, it could present complications such as otitis or sinusitis, but these infections could be treated and stopped without further complications.
In contrast, in the case of the flu, complications may be greater. They can range from otitis to pneumonia, either caused by the influenza virus itself or by opportunistic bacteria.
This occurs because the body is weakened, and these bacteria take advantage to attack the lungs. Although it is a disease with a very low mortality rate, its ease of infection causes a large number of people to become infected each year.
9. Signs of severity
A cold will rarely present life-threatening warning signs.. On the other hand, a flu can show symptoms that indicate that a complication may be developing.
Knowing these serious symptoms is important to prevent a tragedy, and to help those who present them or request emergency care. Difficulty breathing, chest pain, decreased blood pressure, persistent vomiting and in some cases disorientation or changes in consciousness are signs of seriousness that require immediate intervention.
10. Duration of illness and contagious period
Influenza may last less than a cold, it is more intense, and it may be more severe.. A cold lasts between 3 to 7 days, although there are those who register up to 14 days to get rid of it. In the case of influenza, the duration is 2 to 5 days, but cough and fatigue take weeks to disappear.
As for the period of contagion of the flu, it starts 12 hours after having been in contact with the virus. In the case of colds, it can take up to 24 hours.
The contagion is the same in flu and cold. It occurs through saliva droplets expelled when talking, coughing or sneezing, touching objects contaminated by the virus and then touching nose, mouth or eyes.
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