North Kirklees GPs ask: is it cold or is it flu?


North Kirklees GPs are issuing advice to help people decide whether they have a cold or flu as well as help them understand and manage their symptoms this Self Care Week (17-23 November 2014).

The guidance comes from NHS North Kirklees Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which reveals that on average, adults can expect two colds a year and children as many as 10, until they develop immunity.  Sometimes bad colds can be mistaken for flu, but how do you tell the difference?

Dr David Kelly GP, Chair of the CCG said: “Flu’s biggest symptom is a sudden high temperature of over 38 degrees Celsius and a sudden cough.  Other symptoms include headache, chills, aching muscles, limb or joint pain, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and diarrhoea or stomach upset.

“A cold on the other hand may present some of the same symptoms but these will appear at different stages.  Usually, with a cold adults will not run a high temperature, but children might.”


Day 1-2

If you have flu, this is the time when you will have a high temperature and symptoms that come on quickly.  You will be shivering with a headache, muscle aches in the back and legs and you may feel dizzy. The high temperature should go down within 48 hours.

If you have a cold, this is the incubation stage, and there are no symptoms to tell you that you have been infected.


Days 2-3

If you have flu, your temperature should be dropping now and from here on your symptoms will be similar to those you get with colds.

If you have a cold, the first signs appear on day two with a tickle or soreness in the nose and/or throat and sometimes in the eyes.  The sore throat gets worse and a dry cough might start.  You start sneezing and your nose starts to run. 


Days 3-5

From day three the symptoms for both flu and colds are very similar.  The discharge from the nose may change from clear and watery to thicker and yellowish in colour.  Your nose starts to feel very stuffy and blocked up, and you might get pain in the forehead and around and behind the eyes.  If the infection is a really nasty one, adults may still have a slight fever.


Days 5 – 14+

Symptoms should be starting to subside and you should start to feel better.

Your local pharmacy will have all the advice and treatment you need.  You should only contact your GP if you think you have flu and you:

  • have a serious underlying illness;
  • if you are pregnant;
  • if you have a sick child under one year old;
  • if your condition suddenly gets much worse or your condition is still getting worse after seven days (or five days for a child). 

Dr Kelly added: “Try not to attend A&E with either illness, as there’s nothing the healthcare professionals can do for colds and flu and you run the risk of spreading the virus to other patients, who may be more vulnerable.

“The best thing you can do is rest, drink plenty of fluids and help ease sore throats with cough lozenges, mixtures or sprays.  Make sure you check with your pharmacist whether any cold or flu remedies can be used with medication you’re already taking.”


The important things to remember are:

  • Have a free flu jab at your GP surgery if you are over 65; have an underlying health condition; are pregnant or care for someone that has a an underlying health condition.
  • Don’t expect antibiotics.  They won’t work.  Colds and flu are caused by viruses and antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.
  • Keep paracetamol or ibuprofen-based pain and fever treatment or cold remedies in the house.  They will help with the symptoms of both colds and flu. 
  • Sneeze into a tissue and put it straight in the bin – don’t carry it around to reuse over and over again! 
  • Have good hand hygiene – always wash hands with soap and water, particularly after sneezing and blowing your nose.  Take the time to dry them properly as wet hands harbour and spread germs.
  • Keep surfaces clean.



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