Colds and Flu

thermometer and medicineThe common cold and flu (influenza) are both viral infections of the respiratory system. Colds are usually caused by a type of virus called rhinovirus (rhino means nose). Flu is caused by any of several known influenza viruses, but during any one flu season (which is primarily late fall and winter), one type of flu virus is usually more prevalent. Both cold and flu viruses are spread from one person to another through contact with saliva or mucous droplets from moist breath, talking, sneezing, coughing, or hand contact with the mouth or nose.

Remember the following:

  • Wash your hands
  • Cover your cough
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Get a flu shot if you haven’t had one already

Flu Fact Sheet (PDF)


Symptoms: A cold is characterized by a run-down feeling, scratchy throat, watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezes. Sometimes a mild temperature or a subnormal temperature is present (97-100 degrees). Cold symptoms usually last seven to fourteen days.

Treatment: Usually a cold is self-limiting and can be managed by common-sense care with rest, fluids, and warm salt water gargles. Most medications used for colds and flu provide relief of symptoms but don't kill viruses the way antibiotics fight bacterial infections.  


Symptoms: The flu often begins like a cold, with a runny nose and a general run-down feeling, but more severe symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, muscle pain, weakness, headache, dry cough, or loss of appetite, develop abruptly in one or two days. Occasionally nausea and vomiting or diarrhea, or all three, accompany flu symptoms. Chills and subnormal temperature or a mild temperature are more common than with a cold.

Treatment: People with symptoms of flu don’t necessarily need to be seen by a physician or nurse practitioner for simple flu symptoms. Please download the Flu Fact Sheet (PDF) when making your decision to visit the health center for treatment of flu symptoms.

Flu Shots: University Health Center offers seasonal flu vaccinations at a low cost for students, faculty, and staff. You can also get a flu shot at most pharmacies in the community.