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Differences between a cold and the flu

It is impossible to distinguish between COVID-19 and the flu based solely on symptoms, because they are too alike. A screening test must be performed to identify the presence of COVID-19.

A cold and the flu are respiratory tract infections that are often confused. Colds are more common and milder than the flu. The flu can be very serious.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms and their severity can vary with age and health status.

Comparison of flu and cold symptoms
SymptomsFluCold

Fever

  • Common
  • Temperature between 38 °C and 40 °C (between 100.4 °F and 104 °F)
  • Sudden onset
  • Absent or mild

Cough

  • Common
  • Sudden onset
  • Common
  • Mild or moderate

Headaches

  • Common
  • Sometimes severe
  • Rare

Aches and pains

  • Common
  • Sometimes severe
  • Rare
  • Mild

Fatigue

  • Common
  • Severe
  • Duration: a few days, sometimes longer
  • Common
  • Mild

Nausea and vomiting

  • Rare in adults
  • More common in children
  • Often accompanied by diarrhea and abdominal pain in children
  • Rare
  • Mild

Runny or stuffy nose

  • Rare, more common in children
  • Common

Sneezing

  • Rare
  • Common

Sore throat

  • Common
  • Common

If you have symptoms

You can call Info-Santé 811 any time for specific advice about your situation.

If you have flu symptoms, see the Flu (Influenza) page for advice on how to treat yourself.

Last update: October 6, 2022

Notice

Information on the website in no way replaces the opinion of a health professional. If you have questions concerning your health status, consult a professional.

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