Here's a quick guide to help you tell the symptoms of the flu from the symptoms of a bad cold:

Symptom Flu (influenza) Cold
Fever Usually present, high (39°C to 40°C or 102°F to 104°F); sudden onset; lasts 3 to 4 days Uncommon
Headache Very common, can be severe Uncommon
Aches and pains Common and often severe Mild
Fatigue and weakness Can last up to 14 to 21 days Mild
Extreme exhaustion Very common at the start Never
Stuffy nose Common Common
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Sore throat Common Common
Chest discomfort, cough Common, can be severe Mild to moderate, hacking cough

For most people, the flu will last 1 or 2 weeks, but can last for up to one month. The main complications of flu are bacterial infections of the sinuses (sinusitis) or lungs (pneumonia). Symptoms associated with these complications include fever, chills, and yellow, green, or brown sputum or nasal discharge. Children are prone to ear infections like otitis media.

People in nursing homes are at an increased risk of complications from flu because they may have weak immune systems and often have other medical problems that put them at a higher risk. People with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, angina, or congestive heart failure are also at a higher risk of developing bacterial infections like pneumonia.

In American studies, influenza hospitalization rates for children under 5 years of age were second only to the rate in people over 65 years of age. School-aged children have the highest infection rates of all both during and between epidemics, and are particularly likely to be infected early in the season. Households with school-aged children have infection rates 30% above the norm. It is important to help prevent the flu in children by getting each child over 6 months old vaccinated each year.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team