Colds and flu

Fast facts about colds and flu

  • Flu is an acute infection of the respiratory tract caused by influenza viruses14
  • There are 3 types of influenza viruses, namely A, B and C14
  • Influenza A virus (H1N1) caused the big flu outbreak of 200914
  • People with flu can infect others a few days before symptoms begin and up to 5-7 days after onset of symptoms14
  • Analgesics that contain paracetamol and/or ibuprofen will help to ease pain and fever16

Do you know the difference between a cold and the flu? It's easy to confuse the two but flu symptoms are worse and more intense than cold symptoms:15

Signs and symptoms Influenza Cold
Symptom onset Abrupt Gradual
Fever Usual Rare
Aches Usual Slight
Chills Fairly common Uncommon
Fatigue, weakness Usual Sometimes
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common
Chest discomfort, cough Common Mild to moderate
Headache Common Rare

Adapted from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 201815

A common cold will come about gradually over the course of a few days.16 It will affect mainly your nose and throat.16 While you might feel a bit unwell, you will still be able to carry on as normal despite having a runny or stuffy nose or a sore throat.16 Flu symptoms, on the other hand, develop quickly.16 You might go from feeling well to very unwell within a few hours.16 Flu makes you feel exhausted and too sick to carry on with your daily activities.16 Other symptoms include body aches, a cough, sore throat, headache, chills and fever.15


Colds and flu both respond well to rest and plenty of fluids.16,17 You should drink enough fluids that your urine is light yellow or clear.17 Gargling a solution of salt water will help ease a sore throat.16

Would an analgesic be of value?

Yes, ask your doctor or pharmacist for an analgesic that contains paracetamol and/or ibuprofen for relief of pain and fever.16,17

It's time to contact you doctor if you have flu and:17

  • Your symptoms don't improve after 7 days
  • You're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
  • You're 65 or over
  • You're pregnant
  • You have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • You have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV

Frequently asked questions