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Flu vs. Common Cold Etc.

Flu vs. Common Cold Etc.

I recently had the pleasure of working with Dalhousie University nursing students in their final year. They taught me a thing or two about the flu and flu vaccine based on their search of the literature.

Flu vs. cold


Flu (short for influenza) comes on suddenly with a fever (37.7-40.0 C or 100-104 F). A cold , on the other hand, comes on gradually, and a fever is uncommon with not more than a 0.5 C rise.

You’ll likely have severe muscle and joint aches with the flu, but not with a cold. As well, a dry cough is usually present and severe in the flu, and only mild to moderate in a cold.

Another difference is that fatigue and weakness commonly last 2 to 3 weeks with the flu, and are very mild and short-lived in a cold. As you may know, a cold will last a week with treatment, and drag on for 7 days without treatment. 

A leading cause of death

In Canada, the flu virus is linked to an annual average of 20,000 hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths. In fact, flu is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada.

People over 65 years of age; people with existing conditions (e.g. diabetes, chronic heart or lung disease); pregnant women; children under 2 years of age; and people who are obese are most at risk of complications from the flu.

Flu vaccine

It’s a bit of a gamble whether or not the annual flu vaccine will match the strain of flu that arrives in Canada each year. Public health develops the vaccine based on flu strains below the equator the previous season, which make their way to Canada each year.

Getting the flu vaccine helps keep you safe, AND prevents the spread of the virus to people close to you or who have a high risk for complications.

It is a myth that getting the flu shot makes you sick. The fact is that the flu vaccine is made with dead virus, which means it is impossible for the flu shot to make you sick with the flu.

Preventing the flu

The nursing students also had this advice to prevent getting and spreading the flu:

Get a flu shot.

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly [especially after you have been in public places].

Do your best to keep your hands away from your face [especially your eyes, nose, and mouth].

Clean and disinfect areas that are touched often at home and at work.

Cough and sneeze into your arm, not your hand.

I would add, keep yourself as healthy as you can. You know…get enough exercise and sleep, eat a healthy diet, manage your stress, and share your joys and troubles.

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