Influenza (the flu), the Common Cold, and a Stomach Bug all Share Some Common Symptoms, This Guide Will Teach You How To Become an Expert at Differentiating Them

– No Doctor Required!


It’s very easy to confuse the symptoms of the common cold, a stomach bug and influenza (more commonly known as the flu). In fact, even doctors sometimes make the mistake of confusing them!

So how does one differentiate between the three?



Here is a chart comparing symptoms.

Still unsure what you have? There are even more ways to distinguish between the three.

Different types of Coughs:

The above chart shows that a cough is common for both a cold, and influenza. However, they are very different types of coughs. A common cold cough is much more “active,” and often includes coughing up mucus. A cough caused by influenza is characterized by a dry, hacking cough.

Incubation Period:

The incubation period is the time between catching an infection and symptoms appearing.

Common Cold: 1-3 days

Influenza (Flu): Between 1-3 days

Food Poisoning: Anywhere from a few hours, to several days


Common Cold: 2-3 weeks

Influenza (Flu): 1-2 weeks, with severe symptoms subsiding after 2-3 days

Food Poisoning: 1-3 days

Seasonal: (U.S)

Flu season usually starts in October and November, and peaks between December and March.

Common Cold season starts around September and ends around April.

There’s not necessarily a high time of the year for food poisoning, but there are situations and certain foods that increase your likelihood. Fast food joints and cafeterias where meats, cheeses, vegetables and fruits are sometimes kept at questionably safe temperatures provide the perfect atmosphere for harmful bacteria to grow. You are also more likely to contract food poisoning from under-cooked meats and poultry (aka a “medium-rare” hamburger), raw fish, raw eggs (commonly found in cookie-dough), soft cheeses, deli meats and unpasteurized milk products.


The best way to prevent against the flu is by getting a flu shot. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends the injectable vaccine as opposed to the nasal spray for the year of 2016-17. The recommended time of the year to receive a flu vaccine is by October, if possible.

There is no vaccine for the common cold, but there are sanitation recommendations that can help prevent it from spreading. Washing your hands, disinfecting common areas, using tissues, and avoiding contact with sick people are all good preventative measures. It’s also recommended to avoid touching your face, avoid smoking cigarettes and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Avoiding food poisoning can be simple at home where you can control sanitation methods and food temperatures. To prevent food poisoning at home avoid cross-contamination (ex. Cutting raw meat on the same cutting board you use for your veggies). Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods, defrost food in your fridge, cook food to a safe temperature, and refrigerate or freeze perishables immediately.

Avoiding food poisoning at restaurants or on-the-go is much more difficult. If you’re afraid of food poisoning avoid the “prepared foods” section at grocery stores, as well as the deli meats section. If you’re at a restaurant that has “questionable quality” meat, order your burger well-done and avoid any raw, or undercooked foods