Q) Are There Any Telltale Signs That A Child's Cold May In Fact Be The Flu?
Dr. Majestic: Typically influenza is a more severe illness than an average cold, but it can be difficult to tell the difference in some cases. Most cases of the flu are associated with fever. Patients with influenza often experience chills, body aches, fatigue, weakness and headaches. Congestion (cough, sneezing, rhinorrhea) can be present in both illnesses, but more so with the common cold.
Dr. Friedman: The flu (influenza) comes on suddenly. It feels like you've just hit a wall. The fatigue, body aches and fever all come at once. Colds are usually gradual. First, a sore throat and runny nose. Then the congestion gets worse, and children will develop a cough that will go from dry to wet because of post-nasal drip and will start to get worse before it gets better. Sometimes the fever with a cold is at the beginning and sometimes a few days into it. The fever is usually lower with a cold than the flu.
Q) So Flu Symptoms Have A Faster Onset Than Typical Cold Symptoms?
Dr. Friedman: Flu is a sudden onset and colds are gradual. But they both have a similar incubation period. That means they both cause illness within a few days of exposure. The timing of a fever with a cold, if it occurs, will vary. Sometimes it is an [initial] symptom, and sometimes it comes a few days after the start of the runny nose and cough. With the flu, fever is one of the initial presenting symptoms along with the muscle aches and fatigue. With the flu, you are less likely to have a runny nose and congestion like you have with a cold.