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The difference between influenza and the common cold

Both influenza and the common cold are viral respiratory infections (they affect the nose, throat, and lungs). Viruses are spread from person to person through airborne droplets that are sneezed out or coughed up by an infected person. In some cases, the viruses can be spread when a person touches an infected surface (e.g., doorknobs, countertops, telephones) and then touches his or her nose, mouth, or eyes. As such, these illnesses are most easily spread in crowded conditions such as schools.

Influenza is commonly referred to as "the flu." Each year, 10% to 20% of Canadians are stricken with influenza. Although most people recover fully, depending on the severity of the flu season, it can result in an average of 20,000 hospitalizations and approximately 4000 to 8000 deaths annually in Canada. Deaths due to the flu are found mostly among high-risk populations, such as those with other medical conditions (such as diabetes or cancer) or weakened immune systems, seniors, or very young children. There are 3 types of influenza viruses: A, B, and C. Type A influenza causes the most serious problems in humans.

There are over 200 different known cold viruses, but most colds (30% to 40%) are caused by rhinoviruses. In Canada, the peak times for colds are at the start of school in the fall, in mid-winter, and again in early spring. Children catch approximately 8 colds per year, adults catch roughly 4 per year, and seniors about 2 per year.

Many people confuse the flu with a bad cold. The following table highlights the differences between influenza and the common cold:

SymptomFluCold
FeverUsually present, high (102°F to 104°F or 38°C to 41°C); lasts 3 to 4 daysUncommon
HeadacheVery common (can be severe)Uncommon
Aches and painsCommon and often severeSlight
Fatigue and weaknessStarts early, can be severe, and can last up to 14 to 21 daysMild
Extreme exhaustionVery common at the startNever
Stuffy noseSometimesCommon
SneezingSometimesCommon
Sore throatSometimesCommon
Chest discomfort, coughCommonMild to moderate, hacking cough
ComplicationsCan lead to pneumonia or respiratory failure; can worsen a current chronic condition; can be life-threateningCan lead to sinus congestion or earache

People infected with an influenza or cold virus become contagious 24 hours after the virus enters the body (often before symptoms appear). Adults remain infectious (can spread the virus to others) for about 6 days, and children remain infectious for up to 10 days.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2017. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Flu-and-Cold

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