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What People Need to Know: Flu, Cold or Adenovirus

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious virus that usually affects the upper-and lower-respiratory systems — your breathing system. It typically comes on suddenly, and the symptoms can be severe.

Many people with the flu will get better in a few days to less than two weeks.

However, some people can get even sicker with pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus or ear infections. Some of these issues can be life-threatening and result in death. The flu can also make chronic health problems like asthma and heart failure worse. That’s why it’s important to get your flu vaccine every year!

The Common Cold

The viruses that cause the common cold are actually different from the viruses that cause the flu and there are over 200 different cold viruses. Symptoms of the cold include sneezing, coughing, stuffy nose and sore throat.

You’ll usually have cold symptoms for two days to a couple of weeks.

Differences Between Flu and Cold

Although the flu and the common cold both have very similar symptoms, they are caused by different viruses. Oftentimes, it is hard to tell the difference between a cold and flu since they both make your breathing system sick. In general, people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, but people with the flu can feel much worse. Flu can also result in serious health problems like pneumonia, other infections or even hospitalization.


A virus that is often confused for the cold or flu because of its symptoms is the adenovirus. Adenovirus is actually a group of viruses that are more common in children than adults and accounts for about 10 percent of childhood illnesses that involve fever or acute respiratory infections.

Adenoviruses can infect the lining tissues of your respiratory system. However, it can also infect your eyes, urinary tract, intestines and nervous system.

Adenovirus is very contagious. In rare cases, it can be fatal. As with the flu and cold, it can pass through coughs, sneezes and hand holding. It can also pass through fecal contamination.

This virus typically lasts from a few days to a week. However, if it’s a bad infection, it can last longer.

More About the Flu — It Can Be Serious

Flu can spread to others up to about six feet away mainly through coughing, sneezing or talking. You can also catch the flu by touching something that has the flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth or nose.

Most healthy adults can spread the virus beginning one day before they have flu symptoms and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children can spread the virus for longer than seven days.

People usually start having symptom one to four days after the virus enters the body. Some people can get very sick because the flu can make other health problems worse. This includes people 65 years and older, pregnant women, young children and people of any age with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

What are the signs of flu?

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Feeling tired
  • Some may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this happens more in children than adults

An infant can also show these flu symptoms:

  • Inability to eat
  • Trouble breathing
  • No tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

What Can You Do to Prevent the Spread of Viruses Such as Flu, Cold and Adenovirus?

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid being around others while you’re sick. This reduces the risk that they get sick, too.
  • If you’re sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without you needing to take fever medicine).
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that might have germs on them.

Why Is It Important to Get the Flu Shot?

The flu shot can help you avoid being sick. You’re also protecting other people like your children, friends, co-workers, the elderly and sick — so pretty much everyone! Just because you don’t get sick from the flu, that doesn’t mean you won’t get someone else sick who isn’t as healthy as you are. Get a flu shot every year during flu season!

Where Can I Get a Flu Shot?

You can get it from your doctor’s office, urgent care or even at your local Aurora Pharmacy.

More information:

From the CDC:

Meet the Author

 Jenny Lee, PharmD is a Pharmacist at Aurora Health Care Ventures in Elm Grove.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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