Influenza (also known as “flu”) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

While flu vaccination is still recommended for people who have not yet gotten vaccinated, antiviral drugs are an important second line of defense that can be used to treat flu illness. CDC recommends the use of antiviral drugs as early as possible to treat flu illness in people who are very sick with flu and those at high risk of serious flu complications. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking this drug.

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold?

The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.

When caring for people who have the flu:

  • Avoid being face to face with the sick person. If possible, it is best to spend the least amount of time in close contact with a sick person.
  • When holding sick children, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face.
  • Wash your hands often and the right way. (Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, Dry)
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Make sure to wash your hands after touching the sick person. Wash after handling their tissues or laundry.

Learn more about influenza here.