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Difference between influenza or flu from a cold

2 May 2023

Persona con síntomas de la enfermedad influencia

Influenza, also known as the flu, is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory tract, says Dr. Roxana Trejo González, corporate epidemiology manager at ABC Medical Center.

Every year, millions of people get sick from influenza, which can be mild, but there is the possibility of becoming a serious disease and even fatal in some cases, mainly in newborns, in people over 65 years old, or in people who already have some chronic diseases.

The influenza virus is spread from person to person when they cough, talk at close range, or sneeze. The virus moves through small drops of saliva that can get deposited in the nose or mouth of other people.

What are the flu symptoms?

Influenza or flu has symptoms very similar to the common cold, which should not be confused with the same disease. Some of the symptoms that can be experienced are:

  • Tiredness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Body or muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Fever or feeling feverish
  • Cough

Vomiting and diarrhea may be other symptoms that occur to a lesser extent and mainly in children.

How do you tell the difference between influenza (flu) and a cold?

Flu symptoms are sudden, while colds start gradually. Pain, fever, and fatigue rarely occur with a cold, but they are common with influenza. On the other hand, congestion, sneezing, and sore throat are common symptoms of the cold, and only in some cases, it occurs in the flu.

Sometimes, the flu can develop different complications such as:

  • Bronchitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Ear infection
  • Myocarditis
  • Myositis
  • Pneumonia
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Sinusitis

There is also the possibility that other chronic health problems, such as asthma, may worsen with the flu.

How to treat the flu?

The most effective way to prevent it is vaccination. There are safe and effective vaccines that have been used for more than 60 years. Vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time, so annual vaccination is recommended. The most widely used in the world are injectable vaccines with inactive viruses.1

Generally, a person with the flu can recover without medical attention, for mild cases. It is recommended to avoid leaving the house and having contact with other people to prevent the virus from spreading.

But if you are part of one of the high-risk groups or start to have symptoms of a complication, it is recommended to receive medical attention for the administration of medications according to each case.

At ABC Medical Center’s Department of Internal Medicine, we can provide you with specialized care. Contact us!

Dr. Roxana Trejo González, corporate epidemiology manager at ABC Medical Center.
1 https://www.who.int/es/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/influenza-(seasonal)

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    Dra. Roxana Trejo González

    Dra. Roxana Trejo González

    Corporate Manager of Epidemiology and Infection Control at ABC

    Her dedication and leadership in Epidemiology continue to inspire those of us who share the mission of promoting the health and well-being of communities worldwide.

    Learn more about Dra. Roxana on LinkedIn