Is it seasonal flu, H1N1, or just a cold? - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Is it seasonal flu, H1N1, or just a cold?


MADISON (WKOW) -- Under a microscope, you could tell the difference between seasonal and H1N1 flu. Without one, it's impossible for the average person.

"Basically, no one's going to be able to tell the difference between H1N1 and seasonal flu by looking," said state health officer Dr. Seth Foldy.

Foldy said no matter which flu virus you may have, the symptoms are the same. Here's how flu is different from the common cold.

"The distinction would typically be if your fever is over 101(-degrees) Fahrenheit, and you have either a sore throat, or a cough, we would really like you to stay home, until at least the fever has gone away."

Along with high fever, flu include body aches. You're also more likely to have fatigue and headaches.

Sneezing is more indicative of a cold. "A common cold, you tend to have probably a runny nose, stuffy nose, it's more in the head, your ears feel full, have a sore throat," said Ellen Smith, a nurse epidemiologist at St. Mary's Hospital.

Someone with a cold will have little if any fever.

"A common cold, you might see a fever, it might be low-grade, but typically you would not have a fever," said Smith.

Either way, health experts are asking people not to flock to a doctor for the official diagnosis unless you're pregnant, under two years old, chronically sick, or have a compromised immune system.

Workplaces and schools like those in the UW System are being lenient on workers, not requiring doctor's notes following sick days.

It's a policy that Foldy says makes sense. "Not forcing everyone to go to the doctor just to come back to work might help alleviate some of that crowding," he said.

To recap, a fever above 101 and body aches is the flu. Little if any fever and sneezing is likely the common cold.

Foldy said a small batch of H1N1 flu shots should be available in about two weeks. Health professionals and those sensitive groups would be the first in line for them.

While both seasonal and H1N1 flu strains cause the same symptoms, about 98-percent of people tested in recent months had H1N1.

The seasonal flu isn't expected to spread for two more months, when it's colder and drier.

Email Carl Agnelly at

Follow Carl Agnelly on Twitter.


MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin's medical officer said it can be complicated to decipher whether that sickly feeling you have is the common cold, seasonal flu, or the new H1N1 flu.

Having said that, Dr. Seth Foldy said he's worried that the state's hospitals and clinics this fall will be bombarded with people unsure and looking for an opinion from a doctor.

In general, Dr. Foldy said the flu (whether seasonal or H1N1) are characterized by a fever above 101 degrees, and aches.

The common cold more often includes the symptom of sneezing. 

Both illnesses can include degrees of sore throat and coughing.  While some who suffer from H1N1 have reported chills, Foldy said the symptom doesn't appear present in everyone.

Because of the confusion and overlap with the symptoms, Foldy said he's encouraged to see workplaces waive requirements to bring in a doctor's note to explain an absence.  UW System schools adopted a similar policy this academic year for students and staff.

Foldy said within about two weeks, small samples of the H1N1 flu vaccine will become available for hospital workers to ensure they don't become sick while on the front lines.  Shortly after, more vaccines will likely be made available for key groups who might have compromised immune systems. 

Eventually the H1N1 vaccine will become available in larger amounts to include a wider array of people, said Foldy.

According to the 2009 Annual Report on Wisconsin Homeland Security, more than 11,600 samples have been tested at the flu State Lab of Hygiene for possible H1N1 since April.

Carl Agnelly is hearing from more local health experts today to see what distinguishes seasonal flu and H1N1 from the common cold.  Check back with and 27 News at 5 and 6 p.m. for more details.

For up-to-date information on H1N1, you can also visit the state's Pandemic web site.

Email Carl Agnelly at

Follow Carl Agnelly on Twitter.

Powered by Frankly