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Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Kelly McGlumphy


By Kelly McGlumphy

Public Relations Senior Manager, GOJO Industries

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that seasonal influenza activity has increased sharply in the United States . In fact, the number of states reporting widespread flu activity has nearly doubled over the last week.1 Even more bad news, flu activity is expected to continue for a few months; according to the CDC most flu activity peaks between December and February.2

To complicate matters, common cold viruses widely circulate during flu season, with the average adult getting two to four colds per year, mostly between September and late April.3 Because these two types of viral respiratory illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to distinguish between them based on symptoms alone.

In general, the flu is more severe than the common cold. Colds typically do not result in serious complications, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations. In some cases, diagnostic testing may need to be done in order to determine whether a person has a cold or the flu. So how can you tell if it is the cold or flu? Here are some general differences.






Usual; high (100⁰F to 102⁰F, occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts 3-4 days




General aches and pains


Usual; often severe

Fatigue, weakness


Usual; can last up to 2 to 3 weeks

Extreme exhaustion


Usual; at the beginning of illness

Stuffy nose






Sore throat



Chest discomfort, cough

Mild to moderate; hacking cough

Common; can become severe

Source:  WebMd Media References. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/discomfort-15/cold-flu-season/is-it-a-cold-or-flu

Regardless of whether the culprit is the cold or the flu, there are some general infection prevention and control principles that every person should follow in order to stay healthy during cold and flu season. 

  1. Get your flu vaccine. This is the most important measure you can take. Remember, you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine because it’s either made with inactivated virus, no virus at all, or a weakened virus that cannot cause illness.
  2. If you do get the flu, your doctor may prescribe flu antiviral drugs. These drugs can make flu illness milder and shorten the time you are sick.  
  3. Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water are not available. 
  4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs from your hands can enter your body through your eyes, nose and mouth.
  5. Cover your cough or sneeze. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or into a tissue and perform hand hygiene immediately after.
  6. Stay home if you are sick, and limit contact with others as much as possible. A good rule of thumb is to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medications).
  7. Disinfect and clean surfaces often. Use a product that is formulated to kill the cold and flu virus.This can help reduce the amount of germs present that can make you sick.  

For more information about the flu and the most up-to-date information about this year’s flu season, visit either GOJO Cold and Flu or the CDC’s flu web page.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/summary.htm
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Flu Season. Retrieved December 29, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm
3 WedMD. Common Cold Overview. Retrieved December 29, 2017, https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/common_cold_overview

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Contact Information

Contact: Kelly Ward-Smith, Public Relations Senior Manager

Phone Number: 330-255-6293
Mobile Phone: 330-819-8638

Email: SmithKe@GOJO.com

This contact information is for news media only. For other inquiries, please contact GOJO customer service at 1-800-321-9647 or use the GOJO Contact Us form.