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Is it a Cold or the Flu?

The Facts About Influenza and Colds

Influenza and colds are different types of viruses with different symptoms.  How can you tell the difference? Following are the signs and symptoms of the flu and the common cold.









Characteristic high (over 101 F) for 3-4 days



Dry; Can become severe

Muscle Aches & Pains


Usual; Often severe

Tiredness & Weakness

Very mild

Can last 2-3- weeks

Chest Discomfort


Mild to moderate

Stuffy Nose






Sore Throat



How are they transmitted?

Influenza and Colds are easily transmitted from person to person. Although they are different viruses they are transmitted the same way. There are a couple of ways that this can happen. One way is when a non-infected person is standing within three feet of an infected person that is coughing and sneezing.  The non-infected person can inhale the droplets.  This could happen at any type of social gathering. 

Another way that colds and influenza can be transmitted is if a surface has been recently contaminated by an infected person's respiratory secretions and a non-infected person comes in contact with that contaminated surface, then rubs their eyes or nose. Some examples of this type of transmission would include an infected person that coughed in their hands then touches articles in the environment like a telephone or then shakes hand or leaves their used tissue for someone else to throw away.  Because the winter weather brings us inside and the holidays bring us together for celebration, these viruses flourish during this season.

Once the virus has been transmitted, the symptoms can develop in as few as 1-4 days. You can be contagious just before the first symptoms begin (incubation period) and for as long as five to seven days after the symptoms start.

How can we stop the spread?

Get your Flu Shot!  According to the CDC the flu vaccine prevents influenza illness in up to 90% of the time.  If you have had the flu before, I'm sure you will never want it again. The flu vaccination is the "gold standard" for prevention. 

Find a flu shot clinic online

If You Are Sick...STAY AT HOME! 

One of the most consciences behaviors that we can all participate in is to not subject others to our infections.  STAY HOME!  This also means not going to the grocery store or driving carpool. Use good professional judgment.  First, have a good understanding about how the viruses are spread. As your symptoms alleviate, you can work as long as you wear a mask when within three feet of anyone else and use good hand hygiene practices.

Wash your hands thoroughly and often.

Handwashing is one of the simplest, easiest, and most effective ways to prevent getting or passing these viruses.   Everyone should use good handwashing after coughing or sneezing, blowing their nose, coming in contact with a used tissue, or even shaking hands with someone that appears sick to prevent the spread of colds and influenza.  Waterless hand sanitizers are an acceptable alternative.

Keep your hands away from your face.

If contaminated by a simple handshake with an infected person or by touching a contaminated surface such as a telephone you can easily get the infection by then rubbing your eyes or nose. 

Cover your mouth with a fresh tissue when you cough or sneeze.

CDC also recommends that if you do not have a tissue, cough into the crook of your elbow.  This practice will help to prevent the release on infectious droplets into the air that could infect others in close proximity to you.  Throw your tissue away after each use.  Wash your hands.

Periodically disinfect your work area

including telephones and other “hands on equipment” and surfaces with a disinfectant wipe like the Sani-Cloth Plus disinfectant wipes we have available at LAH.

Patients diagnosed with suspected or confirmed Influenza must be placed on “Droplet Precautions”

and remain on precautions for at least 5-7 days after the onset of their symptoms.

Screen visitors for illness. 

It is our responsibility to be the patient’s advocate.  If you notice visitors that demonstrate symptoms of a cold or flu this is not the best time for them to visit.   Using your best judgment, request that the visitor wait till they are feeling better to visit or if this is not possible, instruct them to wash their hands and don a mask before visiting the patient.

If you have more questions about influenza or the common cold, contact your entity's infection Preventionist.


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