Cold or Flu: How Can I Tell the Difference?

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Got the sniffles? Sore throat? Body aches and pains? Fever? You might be suffering from a cold or the flu. But how can you tell the difference, and what can you do about either one? Winter brings greater exposure to cold and flu viruses and, therefore, greater risk of infection. It’s important to know the difference and how you and your family can cope.

Cold vs. Flu

It is often difficult to tell whether you or others have a cold or the flu. As the following chart shows, however, differences in symptoms are often apparent.

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Usually over-the-counter (OTC) or home remedies can relieve symptoms of colds. There are a wide variety of OTC medications to ease nasal congestion, coughs, and mild fever. But with all OTC medications, be sure to observe label directions and dosage limitations. Do not exceed dosage limitations for acetaminophen (over 59,000 persons were treated for overdosing last year). And do not give aspirin to children or teenagers, since doing so following a viral infection can result in Reye’s syndrome.

Sometimes gargling with salt water relieves a sore throat. A sinus rinse or irrigation can relieve sinus congestion and discomfort. (NeilMed® offers several OTC sinus rinse products (such as neti pots) that can help relieve symptoms for colds and allergies.)

Other home remedies include chicken soup which can have anti-inflammatory ingredients and can help relieve nasal congestion. Honey, sometimes with lemon, when consumed in tea or alone, can relieve coughing.

Above all, rest and drink fluids.


Many of the same OTC or home remedies that relieve cold symptoms can help also with flu symptoms.

Since the flu and possible complications are more serious, medical attention is frequently required. To relieve symptoms, physicians sometimes prescribe an antiviral drug:

·      Oseltamivir (Tamiflu™), an oral medication

·      Zanamivir (Relenza™), an oral medication

·      Peramivir (Rapivab™), an injectable medication

These medications are not cures, but they can reduce duration of symptoms. They are most effective if administered within 48-72 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.

If you are pregnant, are over 50 years old, have a compromised immune system, or have a chronic disorder such as diabetes, you should seek medical attention if you get the flu. Because of the risk of complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia, you should see a clinical provider within 48 hours of the beginning of symptoms.



It is almost impossible to keep from catching a cold. The rhinovirus can be transmitted by airborne droplets from infected persons who sneeze or cough. It can also be transmitted by direct contact with an infected person or surfaces that such a person has touched. Basic hygiene, such a frequent washing of hands, and avoiding contact with infected persons or surfaces (such as doorknobs, countertops, railings) are the best preventative measures. In addition, try to avoid touching your own eyes, face, nose, or mouth if you encounter others who have a cold or you are in a public place.


To reduce the chances of getting the flu, use the same measures above that help to prevent catching a cold. Also, you should know that a cold cannot morph into the flu because colds and the flu are caused by two very different viruses.

Very important: The most effective way to prevent getting the flu is to get a flu shot every year. While experts recommend getting a flu shot by the end of every October, you can still get a flu shot in the late fall or early winter. Peak effectiveness begins 2-3 weeks after you receive your shot. For more information about flu shots, see our recent blog, Get Your Flu Shot Now!

If you or your family have questions about symptoms and whether you have the flu, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care so that we can resolve your concerns. If you do have the flu, we can help you feel better and avoid complications, especially if you visit us within 48-72 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Back-to-School Physical Exams and Immunizations Are Due!

If you are a parent of pre-school or school-age children, you’re probably in back-to-school mode right now. But do you realize that your kids’ most important exam occurs before they start school? I’m talking about their physical exams and immunizations. Without having the up-to-date records on file with your school district, your kids might be kept from enrolling.

School Health Requirements

As a public health measure, most states require all school children (including day care and pre-school) to submit a record of having had a physical evaluation and up-to-date immunizations. Connecticut, for example, requires all students to submit health and immunization records to their school district or program before they are permitted to enroll. In addition, Connecticut requires additional physical exams and updated immunizations before students begin the 6th or 7th grades and again before the 9th or 10th grades, depending on school district policy.

Connecticut also requires that the physical examination and immunization record be signed by a licensed physician (MD), doctor of osteopathy (DO), Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), or Physician Assistant (PA).

Public health concerns are very important. Health screenings in Connecticut include:

  • Physical characteristics and vital signs: height, weight, body mass index, pulse, blood pressure
  • Vision evaluation with and without glasses
  • Hearing evaluation
  • Hemoglobin levels and ratio
  • Speech facility
  • Tuberculosis screening
  • Asthma
  • Allergies, including risk of anaphylaxis (e.g., whether Epi Pen is required)
  • Diabetes (Type 1 or 2)
  • Seizures

Immunizations required in Connecticut include:

  • DTP/DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis [whooping cough]) OR
  • Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis [whooping cough], required for 7th grade entry)
  • IPV/OPV (polio)
  • MMR (measles, mumps and rubella; required K-12th grade)
  • HIB (Haemophilus influenzae type b)
  • Hep A (Hepatitis A; pre-K and K)Hep B (Hepatitis B; required pre-K-12th grade)
  • Varicella (chickenpox; 2 doses required for K and 7th grade)
  • PCV (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine; required for pre-K and K)
  • Meningococcal (meningitis; required for 7th grade entry)
  • HPV (human papillomavirus)
  • Flu (influenza; required for pre-K 24-59 months old; given annually)


Exemptions from immunization requirements may be granted for two reasons:

1.     Under some circumstances, a medical exemption for specific vaccines might be indicated. Such an exemption requires submission of the appropriate form that is accompanied by a letter signed by a licensed physician.

2.     An exemption may be granted for religious reasons. To claim such an exemption, the appropriate form must be filed before a student enrolls in a public or non-public school for the first time and before entering 7th grade.

Students who are granted either exemption might be excluded from school (1) until the public health official determines that a disease outbreak danger has ended, (2) until the student has completely recovered from a disease, (3) until the student has been vaccinated, or (4) the student furnishes proof of immunity to the disease.

Meeting the Requirements Easily

After reviewing the requirements, you might worry that you can’t have your child’s physical exam and immunizations completed before school starts. You’re not alone!

Many people find it cumbersome and sometimes impossible to arrange an appointment with their usual physician or pediatrician for this purpose. If you find yourself pressed for time, go to an urgent care center for the required physical exam and vaccinations. When you do, observe the following steps:

  • Download, print, and fill out Part I of the appropriate form, one for each child.
  • Reserve an examination time at the clinic if possible.
  • Bring your health assessment form(s) with you.
  • Collect and bring all immunization records for each child.
  • Bring your child’s health insurance information and ID.

As a precaution, be sure to contact the health office of your child’s school or in the district office to see if they have specific forms for you to use or school-mandated procedures to follow.

If you live near one of our locations in Wethersfield or Rocky Hill, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care. You can call to reserve a time or just walk in. We are open 7 days a week.

For information about how to contact us, visit our website at

Authored by Dr. Tom Brown