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WARNING: Flu Season Ahead! Flu vs. Cold and How to Detect the Difference

by Britney

It’s that time of the year – runny noses, contagious coughs, and stomach bugs are on the rise and it’s almost impossible not to catch what everyone is passing around. Determining whether you have a cold or the flu can be difficult, even with how common these illnesses are, because the symptoms are very similar. Do you know how to detect the differences between the two?

Symptoms for both diseases vary for each affected person according to the severity of the illness, although the flu is often more severe and can lead to serious complications whereas a cold will not. Both the flu and a cold are respiratory illnesses, but they’re different viruses (hence the similarities and difficulty in distinguishing between the two). Colds often start off as a runny or stuffy nose with a sore throat and rarely result in serious health issues such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. The flu on the other hand, is more intense and can result in detrimental health problems. Last year, in the US alone, 80,000 people died from influenza. To determine if you have the flu, you can get a test done in Student Health within the first few days of experiencing symptoms. The chart below shows the comparison between cold and flu symptoms you may experience and will help you distinguish which illness you are suffering from.


Signs & Symptoms

Cold Virus


Onset of symptoms

Gradual Abrupt


Rare Common
Body aches/pains Minor, if any


Chills/cold sweats



Fatigue and weakness






Stuffy nose

Common Sometimes

Sore throat



Chest discomfort & coughing

Mild Common





If you feel as though you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, seek medical attention at Student Health if needed. The best way to prevent the flu is the flu shot which is available at Student Health! It is also important to wash your hands and avoid sharing utensils and drinks with friends.

Flu shots play a big role in preventing the virus from spreading. Students (especially those with asthma, bad allergies, and other chronic health conditions) are encouraged to protect themselves from getting sick this season by walking into Student Health sometime before October 31stto receive their flu shot. Walk-ins are available and the vaccine costs $25.00. Another opportunity to get the vaccine will be on October 23rdand 30thfrom 11-2 in Student Health where UNMC nursing students will be administering the vaccination.

Don’t let the flu sneak up on you!!


“Cold Versus Flu.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 September 2018.

Jutel A. Banister E. “” I was pretty sure I had the ‘flu”: qualitative description of confirmed-influenza symptoms.” PubMed.gov. Us National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.PubMed.gov, 24 October 2013.