While a cold and influenza, commonly called the flu, are both caused by viruses and cause respiratory illness, the flu is typically much more severe than a common cold. Both illnesses share some symptoms, so it can be difficult for a person to determine whether he or she is suffering from a cold or experiencing the onset of influenza.

A person coming down with a cold may experience several different symptoms, such as:

•Runny/Stuffy Nose
•Sore Throat
•Mild Fever
•Body Aches or Headaches

A cold can make a person feel miserable for several days, but colds are an infection of the upper respiratory tract and it is extremely rare for a person to suffer from complications due to a cold. Colds result in more doctor visits and missed school than any other type of illness; it is estimated that 22 million days of school are missed each year due to colds.

Even though a cold is not a serious illness, it is highly contagious so it is important for a person with a cold to take precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus. These precautions include frequent hand washing, not sharing cups or utensils, and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Ideally, a person should stay home from work, school, or social gatherings during the first two to three days of having cold symptoms, as this is when an individual is most contagious.

Influenza is a seasonal illness that typically occurs from the fall through the spring, with most outbreaks occurring during the winter month. Common symptoms of the flu include:

•Moderate to High Fever
•Runny/Stuffy Nose
•Sore Throat
•Severe Body/Muscle Aches
•Extreme Fatigue

The flu shares many of the same symptoms as a cold, but in almost all cases the symptoms are more severe and an individual will feel more ill when he or she has the flu compared to having a cold.

The danger with the flu is that it can lead to pneumonia in severe cases, which can potentially be life threatening. Those most at risk for flu complications are senior citizens, children under the age of 2, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems due to chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS. Difficulty breathing, a persistent high fever, and coughing up thick green mucous are all signs of flu complications, and an individual should seek medical attention when presenting these symptoms.

Since influenza and colds are caused by viruses, they cannot be treated with antibiotics. There are no medications that specifically treat a cold, but symptoms can be alleviated by using over the counter decongestants and pain relievers. Doctors may prescribe antiviral medication for influenza when a person seeks treatment within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms; antiviral medications can help shorten the duration of the flu and prevent complications. It is highly recommended that people get a flu shot in the fall to help lower the risk of contracting the flu.

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Author's Bio: 

Brian values the ability of all ages to learn from the power of stories. His mission is to write about health conditions, educational topics, and life situations in an entertaining way in order to help children understand their own health conditions and daily circumstances. See more at healthstoriesforkids.com

Brian Wu graduated with a Bachelor's Science Degree in Physiology and Neurobiology. Currently, he holds a Ph.D. and is an MD Candidate (KSOM, USC) in integrative biology and disease.