Flu vs. Cold: How to tell the difference

It's easy to mistake the common cold and flu because they have similar symptoms

We're in the height of flu season and despite the flu shot, the Center for Disease Control said influenza activity has significantly increased in the country in recent weeks.

It's easy to mistake the common cold and the flu because they have similar symptoms, but doctors said you'll know when it's the flu because symptoms are more severe.

Right now 36 states are reporting wide spread cases of flu including Alabama, and the current flu vaccine is only 10% effective against this season's strain.

Each year scientists predict which strain will be most common to develop the right flu shot. “The CDC guesses which types of the virus may be in our population and what's going to cause the outbreak this year, sometimes we get it right sometimes we don't," said Dr. Nick Prylinski.

So how do you know if you have the flu or a bad cold? The flu usually comes on suddenly, within a few hours. Symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue and children may have vomiting and diarrhea.

Cold symptoms are milder and people with colds are more likely to have a runny nose.

"If your child is sick you need to keep them at home. We've got guidelines on our website about that, but if they've got a fever we want to make sure that before they're sent back to school that, that fever has been gone for 24 hours," said Keith Ward with Huntsville City Schools.

Most people will recover from the flu in a few days but some can develop complications which can be life-threatening. Even though it's not 100% effective, doctors encourage getting the flu shot to reduce your risk and also protects people around you.

If you think you have the flu, get your doctor to prescribe Tamiflu. It will shorten the amount of time you're sick. Also, to reduce spreading the flu or cold doctors say you should cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, wash your hands frequently and stay home when you're sick.


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