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Cold or flu? - Text version

2-minute read

View this information as an infographic

Know the difference

Colds are very common. They are caused by about 200 different viruses. There is no vaccine for a cold.

The flu is a viral infection affecting your nose, throat and sometimes your lungs. A vaccine available for the flu.

Good hygiene is important. Colds and the flu easily spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs or touches someone else.

Understand the symptoms

Body aches/pain

Colds: Slight

Flu: Slight


Colds: Rare

Flu: Usual, last 3 to 4 days

Sore throat

Colds: Common

Flu: Sometimes

Chest discomfort/cough

Colds: Mild to moderate; hacking cough

Flu: Common; can become severe


Colds: Rare

Flu: Common


Colds: Sometimes

Flu: usual, can last up to 2 to 3 weeks


Colds: Usual

Flu: Sometimes

Extreme exhaustion

Colds: Never

Flu: Usual, at the beginning of the illness

Still not sure if it's a cold or flu? healthdirect's Symptom Checker can help you decide what to do next.

Myths vs reality

Top colds and flu myths debunked

Myth: The flu is not a serious disease

Fact: The flu is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease

Myth: Colds and the flu can be treated with antibiotics

Fact: Antibiotics won’t cure a cold or flu. Antibiotics only work against bacteria not viral infections

Myth: Vitamin C supplements can prevent the flu or colds

Fact: There is no evidence to support vitamin C supplements as a way of preventing colds or flu.

Myth: Healthy people don’t need to be vaccinated.

Fact: Everyone can benefit from the flu vaccine. If you are at higher risk group, the vaccine is free.

Myth: You can catch a cold or the flu from cold weather or getting caught in the rain.

Fact: The flu or colds are caused by viruses and not by cold climates or being exposed to cold air.

Myth: I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby.

Fact: The flu shot is safe for pregnant women at all stages of their pregnancy.

At high risk of becoming seriously ill from flu? Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.


Pregnant women

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Existing serious medical conditions


Annual vaccination is the best way of preventing the flu and any associated illness.


The flu vaccine is available FREE under the National Immunisation Program for people at high risk of complications.


Vaccine is available from doctors, pharmacies and other vaccination providers.

Last reviewed: June 2016

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