Content Map Terms

Difference Between Influenza (Flu) and a Cold

British Columbia Specific Information

Influenza is an infection of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and can include fever, headache, runny nose, sore throat or cough. The influenza vaccines protect against the viruses that cause influenza. To learn more about the influenza vaccines, and to access influenza-related information from your health authority, visit our Influenza (Flu) Season health feature.

The symptoms of flu are similar to other respiratory illnesses including the common cold and COVID-19. Use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to find out if you or your family members need further assessment or testing for COVID-19. To learn more about the coronavirus, symptoms, how it spreads and prevention visit the Coronavirus (COVID-19) health feature.

Topic Overview

Influenza (flu) and the common cold are both types of upper respiratory infections (URIs). Both are caused by viruses. But the flu is not the same as the common cold.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms are usually much worse than a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly and lasts longer.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shaking chills.
  • Body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Feeling very tired.

The symptoms usually are the worst for the first 3 or 4 days. In most healthy people, the flu will go away in 7 to 10 days. But it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get completely better.

The flu usually occurs during the late fall and winter.

Cold symptoms

Cold symptoms usually come on over the course of a couple of days.

Symptoms may include:

    • Runny nose and sneezing.
    • Sore throat and cough.
    • Headache.
    • Body aches.

Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks. As the cold gets worse, your nose may get stuffy with thicker mucus.

You can catch a cold at any time of year, but they are more common in late winter and early spring.

Credits

Adaptation Date: 4/28/2022

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC