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Flu Symptoms | Flu Vs. Cold

Flu Symptoms:

Know what to look for

Image: Flu Symptoms: Know What to Look For

Flu Symptoms:

Know what to look for

Image: Flu Symptoms: Know What to Look For

What is the flu?

Influenza — commonly called the flu — is caused by a virus that causes local and global epidemics1. In Canada, flu season typically occurs in the fall and winter months2. It's recommended that everyone 6 months of age and older, with rare exception, gets an annual flu vaccine2.

The most common symptoms of influenza include2:

  • High fever

  • Chills

  • Sore throat

  • Cough

  • Muscle aches

  • Headache

  • Loss of appetite

  • Fatigue

Although most people will recover within a week or ten days, some are at greater risk of more severe complications, such as pneumonia2.

Is it the flu or the common cold?

While milder than the flu, the common cold — mostly caused by the rhinovirus — is an upper respiratory infection. Like influenza, the common cold is most prevalent in the winter and spring3.

Keep in mind, while symptoms of influenza may seem similar to those of the common cold, influenza is a more serious disease and can cause between 2,000 and 8,000 deaths annually depending on the severity of the season4. Also, flu symptoms can appear very abruptly compared to the slower onset of symptoms from the common cold5.

Compare flu symptoms to symptoms of the common cold below.

Influenza5, 6 Common Cold5, 6
  • Symptoms are usually more severe

  • Almost always have a fever

  • Entire body feels sick

  • Body ache and headache can be severe

  • Tiredness and weakness

  • Symptoms are usually less severe

  • Rarely have a fever

  • Feel sick in nose and head

  • Usually mild body ache and headaches

  • Possible tiredness and weakness

Knowing the difference between the flu and the common cold is important, but keep in mind that your doctor is the best source of information. Your doctor can help properly diagnose your symptoms and may be able to offer some prevention options for the flu.

There’s a FLUZONE® vaccine for you.

There’s a FLUZONE® vaccine for you.


  1. Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe C. Influenza. In: Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe C, eds. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book) . 13th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation; 2015:187—208.
  2. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2015-2016. July 2015. Accessed on February 10, 2016.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Common Colds: Protect Yourself and Others. Accessed February 12, 2015.
  4. Public Health Agency of Canada. Understanding Influenza. Accessed on February 11, 2016.
  5. Immunize Canada. Is it a Cold or the Flu? Accessed on February 11, 2016.
  6. Massachusetts Department of Health. Cold versus Flu: How to Tell the Difference. 2016. Accessed February 11, 2015.


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