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Cold and Flu: Facts vs fiction

These viral infections have somewhat different symptoms


You wake up with a sore throat. Then come the coughing, runny nose, sneezing and fever. You are down with a cold or the flu. Grahak Sathi helps you separate some cold and flu myths from the facts.

Cold weather increases your risk of developing a cold or the flu.

True. Flu viruses survive best in winter when humidity is lowest. Cold viruses may multiply more efficiently when temperatures in nasal cavities go below 98.6oF. Also, cold weather often forces us indoors and close to infected people.

The flu is caused by the same virus that causes colds.

False. The cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Three types of influenza viruses can cause flu in humans, each having different strains. Colds can be caused by more than 200 different viruses. The most prevalent type is the Rhinovirus.

A cold and the flu may share similar symptoms.

True. However, the symptoms of flu are more severe and come more quickly, over 3 to 6 hours. The symptoms of a cold are runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat and mild fever. Flu, typically, involves high fever, a short, dry cough, chills, headache, extreme fatigue, weakness and muscle ache.

You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat or with wet hair.

False. The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Flu season coincides with the cold weather. So people often associate the flu with not protecting oneself well against the cold weather.

The common cold and flu are both transmitted by hand-to-hand contact.

False. This is true of a common cold which makes hand washing essential to prevent the spread of the virus. The flu, however, is spread through the air –through a droplet spread that is propelled up to 3 feet – mainly when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk.

You can catch a cold or the flu from someone before they look sick.


True. Most people are contagious a day or so before their symptoms become apparent. Those with the flu can infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. People with a cold are most likely to pass it on in the first two to three days.


Follow the advice: ‘Feed a cold starve a fever’

False. To help your immune system fight off your cold or flu, it’s important to eat right, even when you are sick.

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for standard cold or flu symptoms.

False. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections not viral infections. However, doctors may prescribe antibiotics if you develop a bacterial infection like a sinus infection, ear infection, strep throat or bronchitis.

Taking vitamin C supplements can prevent a cold.

False. Popping vitamin C won’t help you avoid a cold. It will also not cure a cold but it may shorten the duration of the sickness.

If you have high fever you should take a cold water bath.

False. A lukewarm bath or sponge bath may help lower a fever. But get out of the bath if you start to shiver.

It is a good sign if I’m suffering from aches and pains while I have a cold or flu.

True. Sore muscles are simply a sign that your body is fighting back against a virus.

A cold can turn into the flu. 

False. Since a cold and the flu are caused by different viruses, this is not possible. But being worn down from having a cold can make one more vulnerable to the flu virus.

Drinking fluids helps the flu, but not a cold.

False. With a cold or the flu, fluids help break up congestion and thin mucus. So drink plenty of liquids like warm water, herbal tea and soup.

Avoid dairy products when you have the cold or flu 

False. It is thought that dairy products create more mucus. But studies have not proved this to be true.

My cold could just be an allergy.

True. This is possible, if you’re sniffling but not achy or feverish.Or, if your symptoms last longer than two weeks and you have red, itchy eyes. 

Sources: Consumer Reports, WebMD,,


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