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Both Influenza (flu) and the common cold are contagious viral respiratory illnesses. Although symptoms of the common cold and the flu may be similar, there are some significant differences. Cold sufferers do not run a high fever (greater than or equal to 100° F) and they rarely suffer from severe fatigue. Although cold sufferers may encounter headaches they do not experience body aches and chills. A stuffy nose is common with a cold but usually not seen with flu. Generally, the flu develops quickly and a cold over a few days.
Both the common cold and influenza are transmitted thru droplets when infected people cough or sneeze. The viruses can also be spread by touching an object or surface that has the virus on it and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth. Studies have shown that the influenza virus can live on surfaces from approximately 2 to 8 hours. Flu viruses can be transmitted by you to others even before you develop symptoms and symptomatic people can continue to spread the illness for 5-7 days into the course of the illness.
Flu can result in serious complications including dehydration, pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart failure or asthma.
Since the influenza virus changes yearly, it is difficult to predict the severity of flu each year. Scientists and the medical community work hard to develop vaccines that they predict will protect us from the newest strain of the virus. Because the vaccine changes to accommodate the ever transforming influenza virus, physicians recommend that everyone receive a vaccine every year. Being vaccinated is the single most effective way to prevent being infected with the virus. There are some medical conditions that would exclude a very small minority of people from having the vaccine so it is always recommended to speak to your physician prior to obtaining the vaccine.
Further prevention of contracting the virus include washing hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol based hand rubs, avoiding exposure to ill people, and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. A healthy lifestyle including proper nutrition, exercise and ample sleep will also help your body maintain its immune system.