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FAQ: What's the difference between the flu and a cold?

for Veterans and the Public

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What's the difference between the flu and a cold?

Influenza is difficult to distinguish from a regular cold. Symptoms that may be caused by influenza include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • new body aches

Many people with H1N1 (or "swine") flu experience diarrhea or vomiting as well.

There is a test for influenza, using a nasal swab. Unfortunately, this rapid flu test is not very good at detecting the flu. Another type of test called PCR is more accurate, but it is not widely available and you often have to wait several days to get results. Because of the limited availability of rapid, accurate influenza testing, many providers have to rely on observing a patient's symptoms to decide whether to treat them for flu.

All patients with flulike symptoms should get rest, drink fluids, and limit contact with other people.