Both the common cold and flu are contagious respiratory infections caused by viruses. Symptoms can be similar, but the flu is much more severe. The common cold can make you feel run down, but the flu can make it difficult for you to even get out of bed. Another big difference is that colds have a gradual onset of symptoms while the flu shows a sudden onset of symptoms.
- Sore throat
- Coughing and/or sneezing
- Congestion and/or runny nose
- Possible fever (low-grade)
- Mild headache and/or body aches
- Watery eyes
- Sore throat
- Congestion and runny nose
- High fever (over 100.4 degrees F) and chills
- Headache and body aches
- Possible vomiting and/or diarrhea
Rest and drink plenty of clear fluids (avoid dairy, which may increase mucus production; avoid caffeine and alcohol). If you experience any of the above, you should seek medical attention, from Rutgers Student Health Services, your home doctor, or a local hospital or urgent care center.
Meanwhile, take the following steps:
- Rest and drink plenty of clear fluids (avoid dairy, which may increase mucus production; avoid caffeine and alcohol)
- Warm salt water gargles and saline nasal sprays or rinses
- Humidified air
- Cough expectorants (i.e., guaifenesin) to help loosen mucus and make coughs more productive
- Cough suppressants (i.e., dextromethorphan) to decrease coughing
- Decongestants (i.e., pseudoephedrine/phenylephrine) for nasal congestion
- Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil) for aches, pains, and fever
Antibiotics do not work for viral illnesses (such as cold and flu).
You are most contagious for the first 24–36 hours of illness. Stay home to keep from spreading germs to others. If you have a fever, you can return to school or work only after the fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (without taking medicine that reduces fever, such as Tylenol or Advil).
When to Seek Medical Attention:
If you experience any of the following, you should seek medical attention, from Rutgers Student Health Services, your home doctor, or a local hospital or urgent care center:
- Fever over 100.4 F for more than 48 hours or increasing over 2–3 days
- Symptoms persisting for more than 10 days
- Severe sore throat or difficulty swallowing
- Chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing up blood
- Abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, or inability to keep down fluids
- Severe headache or face pain, sensitivity to light, or severe neck pain that makes it difficult to bend your neck
- Unusual rash
- History of lung disease, diabetes, or other significant chronic medical illness
Causes & Prevention
Cold and flu viruses are spread through:
- Direct contact with respiratory secretions (someone’s coughing/sneezing on you, kissing, sharing drinks or utensils, etc.)
- Hand-to-hand contact
- Breathing in the virus
- Touching infected surfaces and transferring the virus to your nose, eyes, or mouth
The virus generally affects people who spend a lot of time in close contact with others such as classrooms, dormitories, apartments/houses, and offices.
To prevent spreading and/or contracting cold and flu viruses:
- Get your annual flu shot. Flu strains vary year to year, so it’s important to get vaccinated each year. There is no vaccine for the common cold.
- Wash your hands often! Use warm, soapy water and rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water are not available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue or your upper sleeve rather than your hands.
- Stay home when you are ill.
- Practice basic healthy behaviors such as eating right, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, and being physically active.