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The common cold Influenza “the flu”
The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract, i.e. your nose and throat (1) The flu is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system, i.e. your nose, throat and lungs. (2)
A cold develops gradually over a day or two. (3) A flu comes on more quickly. (3)
Colds lead to more nasal problems, such as a blocked nose, than the flu. (3) Fever, fatigue and muscle aches are more likely to occur and more severe in nature with the flu. (3)
Symptoms of a common cold usually appear one to three days after exposure to a cold-causing virus, and include: (1,3)

  • Low grade fever
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Runny / blocked nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat, but you will feel worse and show symptoms like: (2,3)

  • Fever over 38 0C
  • Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Headache
  • Chills and sweats
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sore throat
Most people will recover from a cold within 10 days (longer if you are a smoker), and you are most contagious when they have a runny nose and sore throat. (1,3) For most people, influenza resolves on its own within a week, but you could be contagious between 5-10 days after first signs appear. (2,3)

References: 1. Mayo Clinic. Common cold – Diseases and conditions. [online] [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from: URL: Mayo Clinic. Influenza (flu) – Diseases and conditions. [online] [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from: URL: Cold or flu? [online] 2017 Sept [cited 2017 Oct 18]. Available from: URL:

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