What’s the Difference Between Cold and Flu?
It’s not always easy to determine if you have a cold or the flu, but knowing the difference helps treatment work quicker at ending your symptoms.
Both influenza and the common cold are viral respiratory infections (they affect the nose, throat, and lungs). So viruses can be passed from one person to another. As such, these illnesses are most easily spread in crowded conditions such as schools.
Influenza is commonly referred to as “the flu.” Each year, 10% to 20% of Canadians are stricken with influenza1. Unlike the cold, which can hit at any time of year, the flu is generally seasonal. Flu season runs from fall to spring, peaking during winter months.
There are over 100 different known cold viruses, but most colds (50%) are caused by rhinoviruses. In Canada, the peak times for colds are at the start of school in the fall, in midwinter, and again in early spring. The average adult gets about 2 to 4 colds per year, most often during the winter. Infants can get as many as 8 to 10 colds in a year because their body’s defenses aren’t yet developed. Children under 6 years of age average about 6 to 8 cold episodes each year2.
Many people confuse the flu with a bad cold. The following table highlights the differences between influenza3 and the common cold4: