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Can a cold develop into flu?

Internist, WebMD Medical Expert
Chief Medical Editor, WebMD

The cold and the flu are caused by different viruses. So a cold can’t turn into the flu. But there’s nothing stopping you from getting a cold and the flu at the same time or a few days apart. You catch a cold and the flu in very similar ways – being around someone who is sick, or touching something, like a phone or door knob, that someone touched and contaminated with a virus. The common cold is generally a mild infection that lasts for 4 to 5 days and gets better on its own. Sometimes, you may feel sicker after a few days if the cold leads to a sinus infection or bronchitis.

The flu is worse and hits you like a ton of bricks. One minute you feel fine, and a few hours later it hurts to get out of bed. The flu usually resolves on its own after a week or so, but it can also lead to a sinus infection or bronchitis and, unusually, even pneumonia. Neither the cold not the flu typically has nausea or other stomach problems. If you have those symptoms, there is a good chance you have another type of infection or something else.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine. But you also need to wash your hands often to help prevent spreading the cold or flu to yourself.

Is it a cold or the flu?

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All About the Flu

How long you're contagious and other flu facts.

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