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Colds and flu types

Types of cold viruses

More than 200 types of viruses can cause a cold. Those most responsible belong to 1 of 2 groups:

  • rhinoviruses
  • coronaviruses.

Because a number of viruses can cause a cold, it's possible to have several colds, one after the other, because a different virus causes each one.

The viruses that cause a cold affect the lining of the nose and throat causing symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose and sneezing.

Types of flu viruses

Flu (influenza) is caused by types A, B or rarely C influenza virus. Only types A and B cause major outbreaks and severe disease, while type C can cause an illness in children similar to the common cold.

Most people are infected with influenza A virus. This virus has caused flu pandemics (worldwide spread of a new disease) and most epidemics (widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time).

You can catch flu all year round, but it is especially common in winter. When this happens it is called 'seasonal flu'. Influenza A viruses are found in many species although water birds are its natural host. Types of influenza A viruses you may have heard of include Avian (Bird) flu and H1N1 (Swine) flu. Influenza B virus is primarily a human disease.

Ways to help prevent flu can include:

  • annual flu vaccination
  • antiviral medicines, although these are only recommended for preventing flu if you have been exposed to the flu in the previous 48 hours.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your cold or flu, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: September 2016

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Many people are unsure whether they have a cold or influenza (the flu). The flu is quite different to a cold. It lasts longer and people are usually much more unwell with it. The flu is caused by a few slightly different types of influenza viruses, while colds are caused by many different viruses.

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Influenza

Influenza is an infection caused by a virus. It is spread from person to person by tiny drops produced during a cough or sneeze and by hand to hand contact. While we often call it the “flu”, the common cold is rarely due to the influenza virus. True influenza causes a much more severe illness than the usual cold.

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Flu (influenza) is a common, highly contagious virus that affects your respiratory system. It is not the same as the common cold.

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Cold and flu can be prevented, even during winter. A flu shot helps prevent flu, but there is no vaccine for the common cold so prevention is about a healthy lifestyle and avoiding others infected with colds or influenza.

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Colds: commonsense not antibiotics - myDr.com.au

If you have a cold, commonsense self-care measures and over-the-counter medicines can help to relieve symptoms. Antibiotics are not helpful in treating the common cold, which is caused by a virus.

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Kids' Health - Topics - Colds and flu

There are over 200 viruses (germs) that can give you a cold, so you have to be really lucky to escape!

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