Table - Is it a cold or the flu?

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Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Type: Table

Date published: 2015-10-16

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Is it a cold or the flu?
Symptom Cold Flu (influenza)
Fever Rare Usual, high fever (102°F/39°C to 104°F/40°C), sudden onset, lasts 3-4 days
Headache Rare Usual, can be severe
General aches and pains Sometimes, mild Usual, often severe
Tired and weak Sometimes, mild Usual, may last 2-3 weeks or more
Extreme fatigue Unusual Usual, early onset
Runny, stuffy nose Common Common
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Sore throat Common Common
Chest discomfort, coughing Sometimes, mild to moderate Usual, can be severe
Complications Can lead to sinus congestion or earache Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure;
Can worsen a current chronic respiratory condition;
Can be life-threatening

See a health care provider right away if you develop the following symptoms

  • Shortness of breath, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Bluish or grey skin colour
  • Bloody or coloured mucus/spit
  • Sudden dizziness or confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • High fever lasting more than three days
  • Low blood pressure

Additional symptoms to watch for in children

  • Not drinking enough fluids or eating
  • Not waking up or interacting
  • Irritability; not wanting to play or be held

To learn more and to find out where to get your flu vaccine, visit

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