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Common Cold and Flu

Almost everyone experiences common cold twice a year in India accounting for at least 40-50% new cases. National Centre for Disease Control reported a cumulative total of 28798 H1N1 (seasonal influenza) cases and 1218 deaths in India in the year 2019.

Number of H1N1 Influenza cases in India in 2019

Common Cold is a self-limiting viral infection caused by rhinovirus usually presents without fever.

Flu is a viral infection caused by the human influenza virus usually starts with chills followed by fever and other symptoms.

Cold and flu usually occurs during the months of winter.

  • Cold and dry air makes the nasal passages drier thus allowing viruses to favourably replicate inside the nasal passages
  • Cold and flu viruses are more stable in cold air because of low humidity, thereby stay alive for a longer period

Causes of Common Cold and Flu

Symptoms usually occur due to the release of inflammatory substances in the body when the virus binds to immune receptors.

Causes of Common cold and Flu

Causes Common Cold Flu (Influenza)
  • Rhinovirus
  • Human coronavirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus

Influenza virus

1.  Type A (most virulent)

2.  Type B

3.  Type C

Mode of transmission
  • Nasal secretions from an infected person
  • Direct contact
  • Contaminated objects
  • Droplets from cough and sneezes
  • Contaminated surfaces
  • Direct contact

Risk Factors

  • Poor hygiene
  • Weak immune system

The common cold viruses usually stay in the environment for almost 18 to 20 hours and are carried by people. The Flu virus can travel less distance only unlike other viruses.

Symptoms of Common Cold and Flu

The symptoms of a Common Cold are

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Blocked stuffy nose
  • Eye-watering
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of Flu are

  • All symptoms of a common cold
  • Fever (100- 103oF)
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Headache

Common cold vs Flu

Symptoms Common Cold Flu
Onset of symptom Gradual Abrupt
Duration of Symptoms lasts around 3 or 4 days 7 days
Symptom after virus exposure After 16 hours After 48 hours
Fever Rare Usual
Aches Slight Severe
Chills Uncommon Common
Fatigue Sometimes Usual
Chest discomfort, cough Mild Severe
Complications Rare Sometimes

In a few people with the common cold, cough can last for more than 10 days or even a month.

Children with flu appear dull and show signs of dehydration like dry skin, no tears while crying, less urine output, etc.

Warning Signs that require immediate medical attention

  • Common cold symptoms that do not resolve in 10 days
  • Child younger than 3 months of age and has a fever or is lethargic
  • In Adults with flu
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Dizziness
    • Fever with rash
    • Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhoea

Complications of Flu

  • Pneumonia
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Sepsis

Treatment for Common Cold and Flu

The treatment is based on the advice of a General Physician and is mostly symptomatic treatment as they are viral infections and self-limiting in nature.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

  • Stay away from the people with symptoms
  • Maintain proper hygiene
    • Frequent handwashing with soap and water
    • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
    • Surface sanitizing with an alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Use face masks


There is no vaccine for the common cold.

Vaccination for influenza virus is recommended by WHO to all individuals, especially to high-risk groups like children, elderly, pregnant women, immunocompromised people and people who have asthma, diabetes & heart disease.

Home Remedies for Common Cold and Flu

  • Take rest and stay warm
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated
    • Drink boiled water
  • Saltwater gargling to prevent upper respiratory tract infections
  • Steam inhalation
  • Avoid going out in cold weather and consuming cold foods as it may aggravate symptoms
  • Add Vitamin C and Probiotics to your diet
  • Take ginger tea, honey, and have chicken soup

If symptoms of cold surfaces, book doctor appointments online, to get relief at the earliest.


Take rest, stay warm, and drink plenty of fluids to keep hydrated.

The symptoms last for around 3-4 days.

Common Cold is a viral infection of nose and throat that causes runny nose, sneezing and congestion.

The common cold is a viral infection and patients recover by taking lots of rest and advice by the physician.

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