During the winter season, nearly every parent worries about “the flu” (influenza). If your child comes home sick with a sore throat and runny nose, how can you tell if it’s the flu or a common cold virus? That’s a question pediatric infectious disease specialist Mary Ann Carmack, M.D., Ph.D., hears every week during flu season at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
“Both flu and the common cold are caused by upper respiratory viruses, so the symptoms can be similar,” she says. “However, the hallmark of influenza is that it’s generally much more severe, with higher fever that typically lasts days longer, muscle aches, headache and cough.”
Cold viruses, in contrast, typically cause a runny nose, sore throat, cough and a lower fever, if one at all.