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
Flu: Usual, last 3 to 4 days
Colds: Mild to moderate; hacking cough
Flu: Common; can become severe
Flu: usual, can last up to 2 to 3 weeks
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.
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.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: June 2016