Cold & Flu Prevention

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. However, they can have similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell them apart. Both colds and the flu can have a significant impact on your health, school, work, and social life. Here is some information about the cold and flu and what you can do to stay healthy.

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  • The Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat (upper respiratory tract). It's usually harmless, although it might not feel that way. Most people recover from a common cold in a week or 10 days.

    A cold virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes, or nose. The virus can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or talks. It also spreads by hand-to-hand contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, such as utensils, towels, toys or telephones. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after such contact or exposure, you're likely to catch a cold.

    Symptoms usually include:

    • Sore throat
    • Runny nose
    • Coughing
    • Sneezing
    • Headaches
    • Body aches


    You can help reduce your risk of getting a cold:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash them for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Viruses that cause colds can live on your hands, and regular handwashing can help protect you from getting sick.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Viruses that cause colds can enter your body this way and make you sick.
    • Stay away from people who are sick. Sick people can spread viruses that cause the common cold through close contact with others.

  • The Flu

    Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications. 

    People with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that the flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

    People with the flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Symptoms can begin about 2 days (but can range from 1 to 4 days) after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. 

    The flu is different from a cold. People who are sick with the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

    • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
    • Cough
    • Sore throat
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue (tiredness)
    • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.


    The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is getting your yearly flu shot. More information about the flu shot and the mandatory flu shot requirement for students can be found here.


    Is it a cold or flu?

  • Should I go to the doctor?

    Please note: If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of COVID-19, even if your symptoms are mild, please contact the Student Health Service immediately. 



    Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. If, however, you have symptoms of the flu and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, you can go to Student Health.


    Most of the time if you have a cold, you don't need to see a doctor and it will resolve on its own. However, if your symptoms become serious, see a doctor. Serious symptoms may include: a high, prolonged fever, symptoms that last longer than 10 days, trouble breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, and severe or persistent vomiting.

    Remember, antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as colds or the flu. You can feel better without antibiotics. Check out the CDC website for information on how to treat your cold or flu.

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