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Is it a cold or the flu?

If you have a cold, see Upper Respiratory Infections for self-management and information about when to seek medical attention.

If you have the flu - there IS effective treatment for it - but you have to get treatment fast. Come to Campus Health Services or call 919-966-2281 for an appointment within 48 hours of onset of symptoms because the antiviral flu medications are not as effective if begun later than 48 hours. Untreated, symptoms of the flu can last up to 7 days, usually at least 3 to 5 days. Treatment helps you feel better faster.

What is the Flu?

  • The flu (or influenza) is a respiratory illness caused by airborne viruses, spread from person to person by droplets from coughing or sneezing. The incubation period is 1 to 4 days; the contagious period is 3 to 5 days from onset of symptoms.  
  • "Stomach flu" is a misnomer as there are no respiratory symptoms. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea without the fever, cough, aching and respiratory symptoms is actually a gastroenteritis, but is often called the “stomach flu”. It is caused by other microorganisms and has no relationship to true influenza.

It is Best to Prevent the Flu

  • The following good health habits should be followed for flu prevention:
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
    • Avoid touching your nose and eyes as much as possible.
    • If you have a cold or the flu, sneeze or cough into a facial tissue, and promptly throw it away and wash your hands.
    • If possible, avoid close, prolonged exposure to persons who have colds.
    • Clean environmental surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant frequently.
    • Get enough sleep, drink 4 to 8 glasses of fluids each day, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and avoid stress.
    • Don’t smoke.


For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control National Immunization Program Flu Home Page

Chart adapted from Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs, 11th Ed. 1993, AphA

References: Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 39th Edition, 2000; Control of Communicable Diseases Manual 16th Edition, 1995; Centers for Disease Control. Available URL: