Although often confused with the common cold, influenza is more severe and poses a greater health concern. Every year, an estimated 17 million to 50 million cases of influenza are reported nationwide — many of which occur in otherwise healthy people.

Similar to the common cold, the flu can produce respiratory symptoms, such as runny nose, coughing, and sore throat. However, the influenza virus typically causes more intense symptoms, such as sudden onset of fever, headache, and muscle aches in children, adolescents, and adults. Unlike symptoms of the common cold, the fatigue and cough caused by the flu can last more than two weeks — lingering long after other symptoms subside. Children often spend a week or more in bed due to the flu. It may also lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and even death.

The table below shows some of the differences in symptoms between the common cold and the flu. This table is for information purposes only. If you or your children experience any of these symptoms, please consult a health care professional.

Cold versus the Flu - Here's the Difference

Symptom

Cold

Influenza

Fever

Rare

Usual; high fever (102 ° F/39 ° C - 104 ° F, 40 ° C), sudden onset, lasts 3 to 4 days.

Headache

Rare

Usual; can be severe

Muscle aches and pains

Sometimes, generally mild

Usual; often severe

Tiredness and weakness

Sometimes, generally mild

Usual; severe, may last up to 2 to 3 weeks

Extreme tiredness

Unusual

Usual; early onset, can be severe

Runny, stuffy nose

Common

Common

Sneezing

Common

Sometimes

Sore throat

Common

Common

Chest discomfort, coughing

Sometimes, mild to moderate

Usual, can become severe.

Complications

Can lead to sinus congestion or infection, and ear aches.*

Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, and become life-threatening. Can worsen a chronic condition.

Prevention

Frequent hand washing

Annual immunization and frequent hand washing

*Colds do not generally result in serious health problems such as pneumonia or bacterial infections.

References
(1) Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. About the Flu. Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2010.