Have I got the flu?

Flu symptoms can come on suddenly,1 and early signs of the flu can be similar to those of a cold. Knowing the difference between a cold and the flu means you have a better chance of finding the right treatment to beat the flu sooner. 

Symptoms checker

Here are the early flu symptoms to look out for:1,2

  • Fever of 100–104°F (38°C - 40°C)
    (although not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting
    (more common in children)

Of course, everybody is different, and while some people with the flu will get all of these symptoms, others might only experience a few.1

Cold or the flu?

Unlike those associated with the flu, cold symptoms come on gradually. They include:1

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Mild/moderate cough
  • Sneezing

Colds do not usually require any specific measures beyond taking over-the-counter medications to help ease symptoms, and you can normally get these from your local pharmacy.

See if you can guess who has the flu and who just has a cold below…

Stacey

Age: 5 years old

Symptoms include:
Runny nose, sore throat, diarrhoea

Stacey has the flu

While a runny nose and sore throat could be signs of a cold, Stacey is also suffering from diarrhoea – a symptom of the flu that’s especially common in children.

Brad

Age: 17 years old

Symptoms include:
Moderate cough (developed slowly), sneezing

Brad has a cold

Brad's cough was slow to develop which is indicative of a cold, rather than the flu.

Jing

Age: 42 years old

Symptoms include:
Fever (developed suddenly), weakness, stuffy nose

Jing has the flu

Jing's fever developed suddenly, which is a strong sign of the flu.

Larry

Age: 71 years old

Symptoms include:
Body aches, headache, cough

Larry has the flu

While Larry’s cough could be a sign of both the flu and a cold, his body aches and headache suggest he’s got the flu.

Suspect the flu? Call or visit your doctor as soon as possible

If you feel ill with some or all of the symptoms listed above, and you suspect the flu, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to confirm a diagnosis.

Discover more about antiviral medications for the flu

Treatments are available to protect you from the flu and its complications. These include a specific type of treatment called antiviral flu medications.3 Unlike over-the-counter remedies, antiviral medications target the flu virus directly.4,5

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Flu symptoms and complications. Available from: www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm. Last accessed: November 2019.
  2. Banning M. Br J Nurs 2005; 14(22): 1192–1197.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment. Available from:  www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/whatyoushould.htm. Last accessed: November 2019.
  4. Klepser ME. Drugs 2014; 74(13): 1467–1479.
  5. Stiver G. CMAJ 2003; 168(1): 49–56.