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Is it the cold or the flu?

With colder weather coming and Fall in full swing, it's also almost that time of year again! Yes, cold and flu season! There are many viruses that can cause cold symptoms. For the flu, the timing can vary but typically starts October and can go even until May, with peaks in December through February.

So how do you know if you or your child’s symptoms are the cold or the flu?


To start, the flu is typically much more severe than a common cold and your symptoms will be worse. Additionally there can be complications from the flu, unlike colds which usually resolve without serious complications.

With the flu, the symptoms include fever (usually over 101), sore throat, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and cough. You may have nasal congestion although this is more common with a cold.  You just feel awful! The symptoms are more severe and can last 2-5 days, but you can feel fatigued for even weeks. The flu can also lead to complications such as pneumonia.


With colds, you typically have nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat which may develop into a mild cough after a couple days.  There may or may not be fever, and if there is, it is typically low grade and mild.  Usually the symptoms of a cold resolve over a few days.

Colds are contagious in the first few days, so avoid close contact (the best you can!) with anyone with a cold.  Additionally, some viruses, like the flu for example can be contagious a day before there are any symptoms, or after they are feeling better.  For example, children may spread the virus longer than adults, even 5-7 days out!

Treatment Options

The best treatment if your child does have a cold or the flu is rest and staying well hydrated (and extra TLC). If there is persistent fever, cough, or difficulty swallowing, be sure to call your doctor. Also, if your child has any difficulty breathing, is not able to drink fluids, dehydrated, lethargic, or any distress be sure to call your doctor and get medical care right away.


There are things you can do to help prevent illness for you and your children. The best is what you do all your round.
  • Eat healthy, stay well hydrated and get rest.
  • WASH YOUR HANDS often and always use soap.
  • Also, get the flu shot. It is a good idea to get it at the start of the season.
Your pediatrician will let you know when they have it available. It does take a couple weeks after the vaccine to develop the antibodies that protect agains the flu. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October. That said, it is never too late and you can still benefit from the vaccine at any point during flu season.

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