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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold or Flu?

Your survival guide for the sniffly, sneezy, achy, queasy season.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

The runny nose, the scratchy throat, the truck-ran-over-me feeling. It must be cold and flu season.

The tricky thing is knowing which one you have. The flu especially is nothing to sneeze at. "People often don't realize the flu is a pretty serious illness," Tracy Wimbush, MD, an emergency room doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, tells WebMD. Each year, 10% to 20% of Americans succumb to it, more than 100,000 people are hospitalized for it, and 36,000 die from the flu and its complications. For elderly people, newborn babies, and people with certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer or heart problems, the flu and its complications can be life-threatening.

The cold, while less dangerous, can still make a person feel pretty miserable. And there's a reason why it's often referred to as "common": Each year, people living in the United States suffer 1 billion colds, according to some estimates. In addition, more than 110 distinct viruses are known to cause the common cold. That's why there isn't a cold vaccine -- it's just too complicated to create.

We've spelled out the basics here to give you an idea of which nasty bug you've picked up and how you can feel better, faster. We've also included the best prevention tips around to help you remain cold- and flu-free this year.

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