Common Cold or Flu


Common Cold:  a viral infection of the upper respiratory system caused by more than 200 different viruses.  It’s very easy to “catch a cold.”

Influenza (flu):  a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infects the nose, throat, and lungs

Common Cold: stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat are common. Sometimes you can have fatigue, and chest discomfort with hacking and productive cough.  Extreme exhaustion, fever and headaches, chills are uncommon.  Symptoms appear gradually and can usually last 7-14 days.

Flu:  Fever (100-102F, 38-38.9C), headache, fatigue, chest discomfort/aches can be severe. Early, extreme exhaustion is common.  Sometimes you may have stuffy nose, sneezing, chills and sore throat. Symptoms often appear within 3-6 hours. Cough can be dry and unproductive.


Antibiotics treat bacteria, not viruses.  Since both the common cold and the influenza are viruses, antibiotics will not help. 

Common Cold:  Get enough rest and inhale moist air (use a saline nasal spray, take steamy shower or use a vaporizer).  Gargle frequently with salt water to soothe a sore throat or calm a cough as it will help reduce swelling, relieve pain and wash away secretions in the back of the throat. Hard candy, throat sprays or lozenges can also help.  Drink plenty of fluids. Many people feel that Airborne, Vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea help avoid or treat illness.  Some limited studies prove effectiveness, other studies do not. Non-prescription cold and cough medications and pain relievers do not “cure” you, but they can decrease symptoms so you are more productive during the day and can sleep better at night.  Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) reduce fever and relieve pain.  Decongestants decrease nasal symptoms. 

Flu:  Wash hands frequently to prevent transmission, rest in bed and stay home until any fever has been gone for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication. Fever-reducing medications include as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) - DO NOT USE ASPIRIN! Drink at least 8 oz of fluids per hour (water, sports drinks, ginger ale, broth, etc).  Based on symptoms, some other medications can be recommended to you by health services.


Most common cold and flu illnesses resolve on their own.  However, if you are severely ill and/or are considered at high risk for complication of these illness, you should seek care promptly.  To find out if you are high risk, please refer to the CDC website for a full list of facts about the flu.


Both Cold and Flu viruses spread from person to person. Cough or sneeze in your sleeve or a tissue and throw out the tissue! Carry hand sanitizer in your backpack for frequent use.

Cold: wash hands often, avoid contact with anyone that has a cold.

Influenza: annual vaccines are available, wash hands, avoid contact with others with flu-like symptoms, use of antiviral medications can be helpful in some settings.