flubasicsLately it seems like there are a lot of people sick with a cold or the flu. Respiratory viruses often circulate in the wintertime, and this winter is no exception. But when your aunt skips out on a family dinner because she has the flu, is that really what’s making her sick, or does she actually have a cold?

The common cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses that cause similar symptoms, but different viruses spread them. The flu is almost always worse than the common cold. Unlike the flu, it is rare for a common cold to cause complications like pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalization. While you are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose if you have a cold, you’ll know you probably have the flu if you have a fever, extreme tiredness, body aches, and a dry cough.

The bottom line is, whether you have a cold or the flu, it’s important that you stay home until you’re feeling better so you don’t get others sick. Wash your hands often—especially after blowing or wiping your nose—so you don’t spread germs throughout your home. And cover your cough with your elbow or sleeve. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, there’s still time to make sure you don’t catch the flu in addition to a winter cold.