What’s the Difference Between a Cold & the Flu?
It’s not always easy to determine if you have a cold or the flu, but knowing the difference can help you determine the best course of treatment for your symptoms.
Both influenza and the common cold are viral respiratory infections (they affect the nose, throat, and lungs). Viruses can be passed from one person to another, usually by inhaling droplets coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. They can also spread by coming into contact with an infected person’s nasal secretions through objects they’ve touched. As such, these illnesses are most easily spread in crowded areas such as schools, workplaces, public spaces, etc.
Influenza is commonly referred to as “the flu.” Each year, 10% to 20% of Canadians are stricken with influenza. Unlike the cold, which can hit at any time of year, the flu is generally seasonal. Flu season runs from fall to spring, peaking during winter months.
There are over 100 different known cold viruses, but most colds (50%) 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. Infants can get as many as 10 colds in a year because their immune system isn’t yet fully developed. However, the frequency lessens over time as school-aged children average about 6 colds each year. The average adult, on the other hand, gets between 2 and 3 colds per year.
What are their symptoms?
Download this chart to easily distinguish a cold from the flu. Keep it handy for quick reference!
 World Health Organization. Influenza. 2008; Available at: http://www.who.int/immunization/topics/influenza/en/