Frequently Asked Questions About Influenza

What is The Difference Between Influenza and the Common Cold? What is The Difference Between Influenza and COVID-19? Is Influenza the Same as the 24-Hour Stomach Flu? When to See a Medical Provider For Influenza? Get these questions answered and more.

What is The Difference Between Influenza and the Common Cold?

Some of the symptoms of a respiratory cold (or “head cold”) can overlap with the flu. Both are contagious, and both are caused by viruses, meaning that antibiotics will not be useful in fighting either illness. Both influenza and colds are more commonly contracted during the winter season in temperate climates.

The symptoms of influenza and colds can overlap – particularly those of sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and cough – however, colds are more likely to cause nasal symptoms such as runny nose or congestion, and less likely to cause profound tiredness, body aches, or a high fever. In general, people with influenza feel sicker than those with colds. Colds tend to come on gradually, whereas influenza tends to come on suddenly. It is also very uncommon for a person to be hospitalized as a result of a cold; however, hundreds of thousands of people can be hospitalized in the U.S. during a particularly bad flu season.

Influenza can largely be prevented with the influenza vaccine; however, there are no vaccines to protect you from contracting the common cold.

What is The Difference Between Influenza and COVID-19?

There are many overlapping symptoms of influenza and COVID-19, which may pose an additional diagnostic challenge during this coming flu season. This is one of the reasons why it is particularly important to get an influenza shot this year; protecting yourself from at least one serious respiratory illness can help reduce your chances of getting very ill this winter.

Influenza and COVID-19 are caused by different respiratory viruses, both of which can be detected and distinguished from each other using a diagnostic nasal swab test. People with both influenza and COVID-19 can experience a range of symptoms, from mild to severe, and symptoms such as fever and cough are common in both illnesses. However, COVID-19 appears to more frequently cause severe shortness of breath, and it additionally appears to cause other non-respiratory symptoms, including problems with the body’s clotting abilities.

Unlike influenza, COVID-19 does not currently have a vaccine available to help with prevention, but there may be a COVID-19 vaccine available in the near future.

Is Influenza the Same as the 24-Hour Stomach Flu?

Referring to influenza as “the flu” has caused some confusion for patients who are also familiar with using the term “the flu” to describe brief gastrointestinal illnesses. The “24-hour stomach flu” is generally not caused by an influenza virus, and so it is not the same as influenza. Viruses that commonly cause a brief but limited bout of gastrointestinal illness (also known as “gastroenteritis”) include norovirus and rotavirus.

When to See a Medical Provider For Influenza

If you or a loved one are having profound symptoms of fever, cough, shortness of breath, inability to hold down food or fluids, confusion, or are just not feeling well enough to function at home, it is very important to seek medical attention. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we are here to help you in every capacity, from TeleVisits to in-person visits, and our healthcare providers can evaluate you and treat your symptoms promptly.

If your shortness of breath is severe, or if you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, lightheadedness, dizziness, severe headache, or severe neck pain, call 911 or seek emergency care as soon as possible.