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How do you know if it’s the flu, a cold, or something else?


Influenza activity is spiking in many parts of the Garden State, including Monmouth, Bergen, Essex and Ocean counties.

Influenza levels are either higher or moderate in most parts of New Jersey and many residents are getting sick.

But how do you know if you’ve come down with the flu, a cold or some other illness?

“Flu is a much more severe illness,” aid Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.

“Typically you’re going to have a pretty high fever, you may have muscle aches, you’ll have a headache, you’ll have a dry cough, a bit of a runny nose.”

Louie said you may feel crummy if you have a cold, but when it’s influenza, “typically you’re much sicker and you feel much worse than if you have the common cold. [With] the common cold, most people are sniffling but they don’t feel terrible. With the flu you’re going to feel terrible.”

Besides the flu and cold viruses circulating right now, there’s also the respiratory syncytial virus.

“It causes somewhat similar illness to flu. It causes a flu and can cause runny nose and fever,” Louis said.

Getting better

When it comes to treating these illnesses, only the flu has a specific medication you can take — Tamiflu, and it’s most effective if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

“The cold, which is caused by many different viruses, or RSV, there is no specific treatment for, so you just treat symptomatically,” Louis said.

If you do get sick, make sure you stay home.

“It’s extremely important that you use common sense. If you have a fever, if you’re coughing all over the place, I would urge people to stay out of work because this is how epidemics start,” he said.

Louie advises everyone who has not already gotten a flu shot to get one as soon as possible, especially those over the age of 65, because complications from the flu are serious in the elderly and sometimes they can even be deadly. He also strongly urged pregnant women to get vaccinated.

Contact reporter David Matthau at

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