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Scientific/Medical Question 9
What are the differences between 'a cold' and 'the flu'?
The flu is the name given to the influenza virus, a specific respiratory virus. A ‘cold’ is an umbrella term given to a group of coronaviruses, adenoviruses and rhinoviruses. There is a great degree of variability between these viruses, and within each viral type there are many subsets.
Therefore the common cold cannot be vaccinated against - nor is there a ‘cure’ for the common cold. The flu, given we know what virus it comes from, can be vaccinated against.
Symptoms differ too - expect a runny nose, congested nose or a sore throat from a cold, compared to a range of more pronounced symptoms from influenza. It may affect the lungs and joints, and can cause symptoms ranging from fever through to respiratory failure and death.
Both colds and flu normally go on for around 7-10 days, but flu symptoms may continue for another 2 or 3 weeks after this - even if the flu virus itself has been eradicated.
Treatment is different too - for colds, we just treat the symptoms with decongestants and painkillers. Influenza is treatable with antivirals if caught quickly.