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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How To Tell A Cold From H1N1 (Swine Flu)

Given the continuing saga of the spread of the H1N1 virus (Swine Flu) and the unrelenting runny noses and hacking coughs of 3 of my 4 little ones, I thought it was about time to get myself a handy reference for differentiating H1N1 from the common cold. After an exhausting search and comparison of numerous respected medical sources, I was able to compile the following chart as a personal reference. Granted, there are still many similarities between your garden variety seasonal flu and H1N1, but being able to rule in or out the common cold still goes a long way to preserving my peace of mind.

**This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the need for medical advice from a qualified practitioner. If you are experiencing any health related symptoms, seek consultation from your preferred medical provider.



H1N1 Flu


Fever is rare with a cold.

Fever is usually present in 80% or more of all flu cases. A temperature of 100°F or higher for 3-to-4 days is generally associated with the flu.


A hacking, productive (mucus- producing) cough is often present with a cold.

A non-productive, non-mucus producing cough is usually present with the flu. It is sometimes referred to as dry cough.


Slight body aches and pains can be part of a cold.

Severe aches and pains are common with the flu.

Stuffy Nose

Stuffy nose is commonly present with a cold and typically resolves spontaneously within a week.

Stuffy nose is not commonly present with the flu.


Chills are uncommon with a cold.

60% of people who have the flu experience chills.


Tiredness is fairly mild with a cold.

Tiredness is moderate to severe with the flu.


Sneezing is commonly present with a cold.

Sneezing is not common with the flu.

Sudden Symptoms

Cold symptoms tend to develop over a few days.

The flu has a rapid onset within 3-to-6 hours. The flu hits hard and includes sudden symptoms like high fever, aches and pains.


A headache is fairly uncommon with a cold.

A headache is very common with the flu, present in 80% of flu cases.

Sore Throat

Sore throat is commonly present with a cold.

Sore throat is not commonly present with the flu.

Chest Discomfort

Chest discomfort is mild to moderate with a cold.

Chest discomfort is often severe with the flu.


  1. Thanks for the handy reference. It does seem there's a lot of confusion about the issue. Yesterday, I had to take my daughter to a satellite campus of Children's Hospital for a well-child visit. I had to sign a paper stating she hadn't had a fever or runny nose in the past 24-hours. If so, she'd have had to wear a mask. It seems they're fighting an uphill battle because I've always heard you're contagious before you have symptoms.

  2. So true...with most bacterial and viral infections, you're contagious during the incubation phase which happens to come before the onset of most symptoms!


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