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Being able to tell the difference between the cold and the flu may help prevent flu victims from contaminating family members, co-workers and schoolmates. It also provides the best response outcomes for anti-viral drugs, which are most effective during the first 48 hours of infection.

Recognizing flu’s symptoms early is an important step in breaking the chain of infection which causes flu viruses to spread. People tend not to isolate themselves in bed rest until they are sure they have a fever. This is a problem because someone infected with a flu virus can be contagious between 24 hours before and up to seven days after they exhibit any symptoms.

“Women especially tend to ignore a scratchy throat and headache, pressing forward with their busy lives, believing they have a cold,” says Marie Stegner, nurse and consumer health advocate for Maid Brigade. “A misdiagnosis of symptoms extends the length of time they could be spreading the virus to others inadvertently and unnecessarily.”

Seasonal flu viruses are spread easily from person to person through droplets which become airborne when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or eats. Contamination through direct contact with germs is also possible.

Both colds and flu cause headaches, but the flu virus can be distinguished from the common cold by sore throat, aches and pains, a dry cough, extreme tiredness and fever whereas colds usually present with a runny nose and congestion. This infographic shows a side-by-side comparison.

The flu season usually starts in October and lasts through April of the following year. In the 2014/2015 flu season, 14.3% of all positive influenza diagnoses resulted in hospitalization according to the CDC. Early diagnosis and treatment of seasonal flu viruses is essential to prevent more serious complications like bronchitis, sinus or ear infections or pneumonia.

For more information on stopping the spread of infectious diseases like the flu, visit these related blog posts:

Preventing the spread of flu

Hand sanitizer do’s and don’ts

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