How do you know if you have flu or cold symptoms? Take your temperature, say many experts. Whether it’s seasonal or swine influenza, the symptoms often mimic cold symptoms with nasal congestion, cough, aches, and malaise. But a common cold rarely has symptoms of fever above 101 degrees F. With flu symptoms, you will probably have a fever initially with the flu virus and you will feel miserable. Body and muscle aches are also more common with the flu. This table can help determine if you have cold or flu symptoms.





Sometimes, usually mild

Usual; high (100-102 F; occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts 3 to 4 days




General Aches, Pains


Usual; often severe

Fatigue, Weakness


Usual; can last 2 to 3 weeks

Extreme Exhaustion


Usual; at the beginning of the illness

Stuffy Nose






Sore Throat



Chest Discomfort, Cough

Mild to moderate; hacking cough

Common; can become severe


Sinus congestion; middle ear infection

Sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infection, pneumonia; can be life-threatening


Wash your hands often; avoid close contact with anyone with a cold

Wash your hands often; avoid close contact with anyone who has flu symptoms; for seasonal flu, get the annual flu shot; ask your doctor about antiviral medicine for either seasonal or swine flu.


Antihistamines; decongestants; anti-inflammatory medicines

Antihistamines, decongestants, analgesics (ibuprofen, acetaminophen); antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours of seasonal or swine flu symptoms; call your doctor for more information about treatment.

 Usually, the time of year will give you some sense of what you’re dealing with. The standard flu season runs from fall to spring of the next year.

However, the picture has become a lot more complicated since the swine flu outbreak in April 2009. For now, experts don’t know how that virus will spread over the coming months.

Can I prevent flu or cold symptoms?

The most important prevention measure for preventing colds, seasonal flu, and swine flu is frequent hand washing. Hand washing by rubbing the hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds helps to slough germs off the skin.

In addition to hand washing to prevent flu or cold symptoms, you can also get a flu shot to prevent seasonal influenza. Seasonal flu activity in the United States generally peaks between late December and early March, so the CDC recommends getting a flu shot in October or November. Within two weeks of getting a flu shot, antibodies develop in your body and provide protection against flu symptoms. As of now, there is no vaccine for swine flu.

If you do get flu symptoms, call your doctor. If there’s some chance that you may have been exposed to swine flu, your doctor may want to take samples and send them away for testing. Whether you have seasonal flu or swine flu, taking prescription antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza could help. So long as they’re used within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms, the medications may help shorten recovery time. Antivirals may also help prevent seasonal or swine flu if you have been exposed to someone with flu symptoms.

For more information see H1N1 Fact Sheet provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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