URI vs. Influenza

By: Wissam E. Nadra, M.D.

When is it Influenza versus an Upper Respiratory Infection (a Cold)? Many times during the winter months when multiple viruses are attacking our immune system, and we happen to be in the middle of Influenza season, it’s difficult to know if our child’s cold symptoms of cough, runny nose and congestion are just a “regular cold” or if they have Influenza, “the Flu”. In the following paragraphs we will try to give you, some symptoms that will help alert you as to when your child may have more than “just a cold”. With an upper respiratory infection / cold, fevers are rare and are usually less than 101 degrees F. If your child has a cough, it tends to be mildly productive, i.e. “mucousy” with possibly some slight body-aches, if any. Your child will also probably have a stuffy nose with clear to yellow green nasal discharge with sneezing. All the above symptoms will tend to develop over a few days accompanied with a mild sore throat and feeling minimally tired, if at all. Vomiting and diarrhea are unusual manifestations with a cold. In contrast, with Influenza / “the flu”, fevers are usually present and greater than 101 degrees F. and continue for 3 to 5 days. Child will also have a dry cough, with severe body-aches and pains. A stuffy nose is not a common manifestation and the child will have a slight runny nose, if any. Body chills and tiredness are common with no sneezing. The most distinguishing feature of the Flu versus a Cold is that the symptoms of the Flu have a rapid onset within 3 to 6 hours. A sore throat may or may not be present and vomiting tends to be a rare occurrence. Please be aware however that regardless of any / all information that you read, our recommendation is to always contact your physician for any concerns that you have regarding your child’s health.