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Facts About the Common Cold, Flu and Strep Throat

You wake up with a sore throat and feel achy. How do you know whether you have the common cold, the flu, or strep throat?

The flu and the common cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses caused by a viral infection. You can tell the difference between the flu and a cold by the length and severity of the illness. Cold symptoms tend to last for about a week while the flu can affect you for one to two weeks. The flu can also lead to more serious complications including pneumonia and hospitalization. Strep throat is caused by a bacterial infection that is also contagious, but unlike a cold or flu, strep throat generally does not cause a cough, runny nose, or congestion. Strep throat symptoms come on quickly and needs to be treated with an antibiotic. It is important to know the differences between the various symptoms.

Cold symptoms usually last for about a week and include:

  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough

Flu symptoms are usually more severe and come on quickly. They can last for one to two weeks and can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever over 100.5 degrees
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fatigue

Strep throat symptoms come on quickly. They can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever over 100.5 degrees
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Red and swollen tonsils


When to seek medical care 

If you are experiencing cold, flu, or strep throat symptoms that are not going away you should seek medical attention.

For prompt treatment of minor illnesses, such as the common cold, flu, or strep throat, Penn Medicine Princeton Medicine Physicians Express Care in Plainsboro, accepts urgent care walk-ins from current patients of all Princeton Medicine Physicians practice locations. The office is staffed by board certified physicians and nurse practitioners and is open seven days a week. For more information on Express Care or to schedule an appointment please call 609.853.7272.

If you are experiencing severe chest pain, shortness of breath, severe headache, dizziness, or persistent vomiting, you should seek immediate medical attention by visiting your nearest emergency department or calling 911. 


Express Care Hours: Mon - Thu: 8:30 a.m. - 8 p.m., Fri: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Sat and Sun: 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Walk-ins welcome. You may also call ahead for an appointment at 609.853.7272.

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