At first, the symptoms of a common cold and flu may seem similar. In fact, both are caused by respiratory viruses, but if your condition rapidly worsens and you develop a fever of 102 or higher, it’s more likely to be flu. In addition to sudden onset, the flu is also more likely than a cold to be accompanied by aches, chills, coughs and severe fatigue.

Cause for concern

Flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that on average, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year with flu-related illnesses, and the number of annual flu-related deaths ranges from a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000. Last season, 146 children died as a result of flu-related illnesses.

"Those age 65 years and older as well as younger adults with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or those who smoke are more likely to get the disease and are at greater risk for serious illness..."

The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year. CDC also recommends that pregnant women receive the flu shot (not nasal spray) during any trimester to protect both themselves and their newborns who are too young to be vaccinated. Additionally, those with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease are at higher risk of complications from flu, and should be vaccinated annually.

Senior safety

If you are older than 65 or have a chronic health condition, also ask about pneumococcal vaccination. Adults age 65 years and older or those in high-risk groups should talk to their health care professional about getting pneumococcal vaccination at the same time as their flu vaccine.

Pneumococcal disease is a serious disease that can lead to severe illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections (sepsis). It’s hard to know the exact number, but about 1 million adults in the U.S. are thought to get pneumococcal pneumonia each year and 5-7 percent of them die. Those age 65 years and older as well as younger adults with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or those who smoke are more likely to get the disease and are at greater risk for serious illness as a result.