Is it Influenza or the Common Cold? How to Tell the Difference:

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Is it serious?

Many people find themselves coughing and sneezing their way through the winter season, but how do you know when things start to get serious?

Woman sick with flu or cold

Because of the overlap between symptoms, differentiating between the common cold and an influenza infection can be a difficult task. Both are classified as viral respiratory infections, present with similar symptoms, and are spread from person to person through contact with infected surfaces.

What’s the difference between influenza and the common cold?

Influenza, better known as the flu, is a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory system. The virus is passed from person to person though respiratory droplets emitted when an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs. People find themselves at risk for contracting the flu when inhaling the infected droplets or touching their eyes, mouth or nose after touching something that has been infected.

Similar to the flu, the common cold can also be a result of a viral infection attacking the upper respiratory tract. Cold viruses enter your body through contact with the mouth, eyes, or nose after exposure to an infected surface. Of the estimated 1 billion cases of the common cold in the U.S. each year, 30-35% are caused by some type of rhinovirus.

What should I look for?

Despite the similarities, there are a few tell-tale signs that might indicate whether you are suffering from the common cold or the influenza virus.

Unlike the common cold, flu symptoms typically come on quickly and severely, almost always accompanied by a fever. Additionally, flu symptoms are usually felt throughout the body, with muscle aches, headaches, and weakness/fatigue.

Conversely, symptoms of a common cold are usually milder, developing gradually over the course of several days, and are rarely accompanied by fever. People suffering from a cold usually experience symptoms isolated in the head and nose, and do not experience the same body aches or weakness associated with an influenza infection.

man sick with the flu

If you find yourself sick with flu-like symptoms, it is recommended that you remain at home, avoiding contact with people except medical personnel. The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).

When is the right time to see the doctor?

Although the easiest way to determine the difference between a cold and the flu is to visit your doctor for a diagnostic test, many people do not go so far as to take this step as a diagnosis often will not affect the course of treatment.

While both the flu and the common cold will usually go away on their own, it is recommended that you seek medical attention if symptoms change or begin to worsen. There are, however, several steps you can take to lower your chances of catching any virus, including the flu.

Who should get the flu shot?

The CDC recommends that all people above the age of 6 months be vaccinated with the flu vaccine. Special emphasis should be given to certain “at risk” populations, including children aged 6-59 months, adults above the age of 50, and women who are or will be pregnant during flu season, among others.

Influenza vaccine administration

Individuals should not get a vaccine if they are younger than 6 months old or have experienced severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients. Talk to your doctor before getting a flu shot if you are feeling ill, have previously been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), or have an allergy to egg or other vaccine ingredients.

What side effects are associated with the flu vaccine?

While you cannot contract the flu from the flu shot, vaccines, like any medication, come with the risk of side effects.

Common side effects include: soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given; low grade fever; muscle aches; or toughness/itching at the injection site. These reactions typically present soon after the flu shot and may last one to two days.

If you experience a life-threatening allergic reaction, such as breathing problems; hoarseness or wheezing; hives; paleness; weakness; increased heart rate; or dizziness, seek medical attention immediately.

In some cases, symptoms of reaction persist and can develop into long-term illnesses.

Injuries Associated with the Flu Vaccine in the NVICP include:

Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM)
Brachial Neuritis
Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)
Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)
Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA)
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
Transverse Myelitis (TM)

If the resulting injury lasts more than 6 months or results in surgical intervention during inpatient hospitalization or death, you may be eligible to petition for compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Petition

National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

Vaccines are an important part of public health, working to save lives by preventing disease. Most of the time, vaccines are administered without any serious problems. Like with any medication, however, there is a risk of side effects, ranging from mild to serious.

For this reason, the US government created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), a “no-fault” alternative to the traditional legal system. Petitions can be filed by any individual, at any age, after developing an injury believed to be a result of a covered vaccine, if jurisdictional requirements are met.

Conway Homer, P.C. is the most experienced vaccine injury law firm in the United States. We represent clients from all 50 states and have advocated for landmark cases that have shaped the Vaccine Program and made it friendlier and more generous to those individuals who suffer from vaccine injuries. To get in touch with our dedicated team, click here for a free consultation.

Conway Homer attorneys specializing in vaccine injury litigation