What's the line between a cold and a flu?

So, what is the line between a cold and a flu? A temperature? Body aches? Nausea? Malaise?

Put this in IMHO because I’m not sure there’s an official difference… maybe colds are bacterial and the flu is viral?

The difference between a cold and the flu.

I’ve never had the flu, but had plenty of colds. Only answering because this is in IMHO, but just wanted to point out you can be susceptible to one and not the other.

There is a factual answer. The cold and flu are caused by two different things (although both are viruses). The cold is a group of illnesses that is caused by 200 or more different sets of virures. The flu is caused by the influenza group of viruses.

There isn’t a line you can draw between the two. They are different illnesses although many symptoms overlap. That is, a cold doesn’t turn into the flu as it gets worse.

Many people say they have the flu when it is really just a bad cold. Many people have never had a real case of the flu even though virtually everyone has gotten colds. The flu is not just a bad cold. It is a very serious disease and a leading cause of death.

Yes, it’s common to hear people say things like “I’ve got this terrible flu but I’ve stuggled into work anyway”. If you’ve really got the flu, you can’t get out of bed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about it, as patient after patient marches into my office to get something for their “little flu” that has caused them to sneeze a few times. I think it’s time to stop fighting the evolution of language and accept that “flu” is now a generic term for a mild infection, much like “cold”. This is separate from its original, obvious meaning as a shortened form of “influenza”. (It isn’t unprecedented; “vaccine” has taken a similar course.)

As the above article points out, the big differences between influenza and a “cold” are that influenza is multisystemic and severe.

A quick rule of thumb is that if you feel bad from the neck up, you’ve got a cold. If you feel bad all over, you’ve got the flu.

I’m still out there fighting the good fight. I love telling family, friends, and coworkers that their sniffles probably aren’t the flu. The flu is serious. I don’t even know if I have ever had a real case of the flu.

What should the real flu be called?

“Influenza”. I don’t like “the real flu”, because it minimizes what the patient does have, which by inference is “not real”. One of the hardest and most important things I’ve learned in medicine is to reassure the patient without minimizing the problem, and telling a patient that what he has isn’t “real whatever” does just the opposite. I just tell them that it isn’t influenza.

Moved from IMHO to GQ.

I have had influenza, and when you do, you will never mistake another cold for it in your life.

Absolutely “sick all over” and then some. Sometimes you worry you will die, and then you worry you won’t die.

I would disagree slightly with your second paragraph. I had the Hong Kong Flu in 1968. At the time I was 16 years old and a jock. This bug damn near killed me. No bullshit, I had to crawl to the head in the morning I was so weak. Two fucking weeks, and 20 lbs of muscle lost before I got better. I would say that the line is here. If you think you are going to die, it’s a cold. If you are afraid that you might get better, cause dying would be so much easier, it’s the flu.
I agree 100% with your last paragraph. A real case of the flu will kick your ass like nothing else.

I don’t know about the “official” difference, but I can tell you that once you got the flu, you won’t mistake it anymore for a cold. They’re really not in the same league as diseases go. They’re similar in the same way as a gentle slap on the wrist in similar to a big kick in the groin.

Hear, hear.

If you had asked me before December of 2003 if I ever thoguht I had the flu, I probably would have said “yeah, a few times.” Now I can tell you with 100% certainty that I have had the flu just once, and boy, I’ll never make the mistake of confusing the flu and a bad cold ever again.

It started basically right after classes ended the first semester of my senior year. I had to use a roommate’s bed the week I was ill, because mine was a bunk, and there was no way I could climb up into it. I could do nothing but lie down, and make the occaisional trip to the bathroom to piss and empty out my puke bucket, as well as get some sips of water. I averaged a fever of 102, with spikes to 104 and 105. I ate nothing except for a couple pieces of bread everyday (which which pretty much promptly thrown up) that week. Lost some weight (hmm…I wonder if anyone had ever tried marketing as live flu virus as a weight loss product…)

I actually had to take my last final exam while recovering from it. The vomiting had gone, but I still had a low grade fever (just over 100), a headache, and too stuffed up to think about anything. I took a lot of dayquil before it to see if it would help me…it didn’t. I did so bad on the exam it dropped my grade in the class from a decent A to barely a B.

Then, a couple weeks into the new semester (this is about a month after I first came down with the flu) I had a small relapse (or more likely just had a really bad cold virus that was made worse due to a weakened immune system.) More chills, fever, aches, slightly less vomiting. And, in about a week when that was gone, I found out I had come down with…pneumonia! Almost three weeks of constant deep, wet, lung coughs (it was nearly three weeks because it was over a week before I went to the health center to have the pneumonia diagnosed.)

Yeah… I hate the flu, because it gave me pneumonia. Bastard just opened up the flood gates for infection. :mad:

When I was sixteen years old, I went to bed feeling kind of wonky, but thought I was just tired. The next morning, I woke up with a 104 degree temperature that went on for four days or so. I was sick for eleven days total. I took a aspirin and tylenol for the fever, but even they didn’t give much relief. I was delirious, and I hallucinated from the fever.
Never in my life will I mistake a cold for the flu. I’d rather have ten colds than another bout with the flu.

Quick question for anyone who might now: none of the viruses that cause bona fide colds cause body aches and/or vomiting, do they? Those symptoms make me think the sufferer has something more than a cold. I understand that there are so-called “flu-like” viruses which cause neither the common cold nor influenza, but can impart pretty miserable symptoms.

It’s best for children and teenagers not to take aspirin when they have the flu (or chicken pox), as it can cause Reye’s syndrome. Although the syndrome isn’t common, there’s no reason to risk it since there are other medicines that can lower fever and reduce pain.

Question: Are actual viruses “local”?

By that I mean. . .when I have a cold are the virus “cells” (*) only in my nose, mouth, lungs, etc. and when I have a flu, are the virus cells only in my stomach?

I guess I always thought that a virus was just kind of everywhere. . .like my blood and fluids were teeming with virus cells. But the linked article in the second post kind of makes it sound like cold symptoms are an attempt to get the virus out of your head, and your flu symptoms are an attempt to get it out of your stomach.

Now, I’m questioning whether I’ve had the flu. Sometimes, people seem to get something we call the “24 Hour Flu”. For instance, last year, I was laid up for a day with vomiting and diarrhea. Couldn’t get out of bed. Couldn’t hold down a SIP of water or a nibble of cracker. I had mild diarrhea for a couple days after that, but I felt way better. Didn’t seem like a cold, but doesn’t sound like full on influenza either.

(*) I know a virus isn’t really a cell, or an organism. I’m just using the term because I’m not really sure what to call the virus elements.

The difference is, if we’re both sick, you have a cold. I have the flu. :smiley:

Non-medical, slightly humorous answer, of indeterminate origin. You’re in bed resting with the illness, when you notice outside your window, a $100 bill on your lawn.

If you go outside to get it, you have a cold.