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Little Timmy is sneezing, your husband has a sore throat and you woke up feeling achy all over. Tis’ the season where germs abound and the seasonal question comes about: is it a cold or the flu?

Adorable baby boy sleeping while being watched by father at home

Colds and flu share many of the same symptoms, which is why it can be confusing to know. Do you call off work, keep your child home or stick it out a few days?

Colds and flu share many of the same symptoms, which is why it can be confusing to know. Do you call off work, keep your child home or stick it out a few days?

Both the cold and flu are considered respiratory illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a cough, runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

While the common cold is a nuisance, each year, the flu causes thousands of deaths and many hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year. The flu, unlike the cold, is contagious and its symptoms typically include:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

* It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

If you suspect your child has, or is coming down with the flu, it is important to keep him or her home from school and extracurricular activities. People with certain chronic medical conditions, both kids and adults alike, are at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications. The flu also varies from person to person in its severity depending on which strain, if a person was vaccinated and how much contact a person with the flu has had with another.

Related read: Seasonal Allergies: 5 Tips to Help Your Child

Colds generally do not come with a fever and if there are any body aches or lethargic feelings, they are mild. Also, you can not vaccinate against a cold nor are there prescription medications to treat a cold, only over the counter remedies to lessen symptoms, such as runny nose, sore throat, sneezing or watery, itchy eyes, The plus side is that both usually will run their course and go away on their own.

What are some of the proactive manners you can adopt to reduce your chances of contracting the flu or a cold? The CDC promotes “Take 3” action steps to fight the flu:

1 Get a flu vaccine. It is recommended everyone 6 months and older receive the current season vaccine as soon as it is available.

  1. Take everyday preventive actions to prevent the spread of germs. Avoiding close contact with sick people and limiting your contact with others as much as possible will help reduce the spread of germs. The basics of hand washing –often—with soap and water as well as avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth will keep germs at bay.
  2. If you get the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs. These are different than antibiotics and can reduce the severity and duration of the flu.

Finally, use good judgement. If you or your child just “isn’t right,” it’s better to miss a day of work or school than tax your immune system. Simple as it sounds, rest, drink plenty of hot liquids and see your doctor if the symptoms persist.