Cold or flu: know the difference / Know the flu facts - Fact sheet

The flu and a cold can have similar symptoms. The difference is how intense they feel and how common they are. In general, symptoms of the flu appear quickly, while symptoms of a cold happen slowly.

Cold Flu
Can be prevented. Get your flu shot.
You may feel chills but fever is rare Fever
Cough, chest discomfort (mild but may last a while) Cough, chest discomfort (dry cough can be severe)
Body aches & pains (mild) Body aches & pains (can be severe)
Tiredness (you can still do your daily activities) Bedridden (you may feel extremely exhausted)
Headache (mild) Headache (can be severe)
Sore throat Sore throat
Stuffy, runny nose, sneezing Stuffy, runny nose
Complications can include…
  • Lung infections
  • Throat infections
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Pre-existing health conditions getting worse (such as asthma)
  • Hospitalization
  • Death

People experience symptoms differently. If your symptoms get worse or persist, see your healthcare provider.

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Know the flu facts

The flu can be serious.

  • The flu is very contagious and can spread quickly and easily.
  • Before you even know you are sick, you can pass the flu on to others.
  • In Canada, an average of 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths related to the flu occur each year *.

The flu can affect anyone.

  • Even healthy people can get the flu, and it can be serious.
  • People at higher risk of serious complications* are:
    • adults aged 65 and over
    • those living with one or more chronic health conditions
    • those residing in nursing homes or other facilities
    • young children
    • pregnant women
    • Indigenous peoples

You need to get vaccinated every year.

  • Flu viruses change each year. Experts create a new vaccine to protect you each flu season.

You can't get the flu from the flu shot.

  • The viruses in the flu shot are either killed or weakened and cannot give you the flu.

The flu shot is safe.

  • The flu shot has benefited millions of Canadians since 1946.
  • Most people don't have reactions to the flu shot; those who do may have soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site.
  • Severe reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare.

Everybody wins when you get vaccinated.

  • If you do get the flu, the flu shot may reduce the severity of your symptoms.
  • By getting the flu shot, you protect yourself and others because you are less likely to spread the flu.
  • It's a simple action that can prevent complications and save lives.
Footnote 1

National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI): Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine.

Return to footnote * referrer

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