Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a virus that infects your nose, throat, and lungs. The flu often has symptoms similar to the common cold. It can give you a fever, cough, and nasal congestion. Influenza, or flu, is a virus that spreads throughout the fall and winter months. While most people who get the flu recover in a few days, it can become serious and require medical care.
Both the flu and cold viruses spread easily in cold, dry weather. Flu season usually begins in the fall and can last through May. The flu virus is contagious and spreads through the air and by physical contact.
Some people are at greater risk of developing complications when they have the flu. Children under 5 and adults over 65 are likely to have more severe cases of the flu and could need medical attention.
People with chronic conditions or women who are pregnant are also more susceptible to flu complications.
The flu often develops suddenly. Common warning signs include a runny nose and a sore throat. The common cold and the flu share many common symptoms. But while a cold develops more slowly, the flu appears quickly and makes you feel worse.
Signs of the flu include:
For some people, the flu can bring the risk of more severe complications. Pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, and asthma attacks are common complications among higher-risk children and adults.
The best way to prevent getting the flu is by getting a flu shot every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommend that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot at the beginning of every flu season, but it’s never too late to get the vaccine.
During the fall and winter months, you can take precautions to prevent spreading the virus. Wash your hands regularly and help children wash their hands. Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough helps contain germs.
If you come down with the flu, avoid public places to help prevent spreading the virus to others.
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Influenza (flu) and the common cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Flu is caused by influenza viruses only, whereas the common cold can be caused by a number of different viruses, including rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, and seasonal coronaviruses. Seasonal coronaviruses should not be confused with SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because flu and the common cold have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are typically more intense and begin more abruptly. Colds are usually milder than flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than people who have flu. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have serious associated complications.
Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests can tell if a person is sick with flu.
The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.