Is it a cold or is it the flu?

Monthly safety tip from your Black Hawk College Safety Committee

Do you remember the last Olympics when Bob Costas missed his broadcast due to illness? Did he have the flu or a cold?  Do you know the difference? Studies have shown that going to work while sick can impact the safety and health of the workforce. Not only can illnesses be spread, employees could be more susceptible to injuries when they are sick.

A cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms. The main difference is the severity of the symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic and other health experts advise people who are ill to stay home from work and rest.

Flu symptoms can vary from person to person and tend to be severe. The length of the flu and its severity can be alleviated by contacting a physician within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. If you didn’t get your flu shot, keep in mind the following flu symptoms:

  • Chills and fever which tends to be high and can last for three to four days
  • Exhaustion, aches and pains
  • Coughing, congestion and headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

Fight the flu by following the Centers for Disease Control’s suggestions:

1. Take time to get a flu vaccine
2. Take steps to prevent spreading germs

  • Avoid close contact with sick people. If you’re ill, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand-sanitizers. Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects that may have germs like the flu.
  • Cover your nose or mouth with tissue when you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. Be sure you throw your tissues in the trash after use.

3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

  • Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter.
  • They can make the illness milder, shorten the time a person is sick and may prevent complications.
  • Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. They are still helpful when started late.

Cold symptoms gradually get worse over a few days and tend to include a stuffy or runny nose along with a sore throat. May cause tiredness, but it is much less severe than the exhaustion that comes with the flu. A cold usually does not result in a serious health problem or hospitalization. Cold symptoms tend to include:

  • Cough, congestion and headache
  • Itchy nose, throat and watery eyes
  • Feeling tired
  • Fever – typically less than 101 (if it’s higher, you may have more than a cold)

Natural remedies that may help you alleviate your cold are:

  1. Increase your Vitamin C intake to 1,000 mg per day or take Emergen-C to boost your immune system and take zinc lozenges every 2 hours.
  2. Stay hydrated with non-caffeinated drinks (especially warm drinks like decaffeinated teas or honey, lemon and hot water mixed together) and use a humidifier to keep nasal passages moist.
  3. Get plenty of rest and eat chicken soup.  Studies indicate that chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties that can help you feel better.
  4. Blow your nose often to remove mucus from your head and wash your hands.  Also consider taking a steamy shower as the moist heat helps clear and soothe congested nasal passages.
  5. Gargle four to five times a day with warm water and a teaspoon of salt to help relieve a sore throat.
  6. Apply a hot or cold washcloth to your eye area to relieve congested sinuses. Microwave a wet washcloth for a few seconds for heat or freeze it for cold. Test the temperature of it before applying to your face!
  7. Elevate your head with extra pillows to help with sinus drainage. Caution: If you have a small child or infant, DO NOT place pillows in the crib. It is a serious SIDS risk.

Remember, always consult your physician for any of your medical questions and concerns.


Disclaimer: These tips have been provided as general information for increasing safety awareness and for informational purposes only. Black Hawk College does not accept any liability for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) that is provided. We make every effort to insure the integrity and validity of the data provided. Always, check with your care provider before making any changes.


Duda, K. (2014, Dec 16). “Is it a Cold or the Flu?” Health; Common Cold Symptoms,, Common Flu Symptoms; Family Health and Nutrition,,

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Says “Take 3” Actions To Fight The Flu.

Morrison, K. (2014 May 1). Safety and Health Magazine, “Too Sick to Work”.