Skip to content

Strep, Cold, or Flu?

    Knowing which it is may save you a trip to urgent care.  Here is a symptom summary to help.

    Streptococcus pyogenes : bacteria, not a virus
    • No cough (key)
    • Sudden sore throat
    • Red swollen tonsils with white spots–not pus
    • Pain when swallowing
    • Fever
    • Swollen neck glands
    • Loss of appetite
    • Headache
    • Abdominal pain

    sick In bed with strep, cold, or flu?

    (about 50% are rhinovirus)
    2 day incubation time 36~72 hrs
    3-10 days duration
    • Sneezing & Coughing (key)
    • Slow onset
    • Sore Throat
    • Pus or exudate in back of throat
    • Runny nose
    • Red, itchy or watery eyes
    • No fever

    2 day incubation time 36~72 hrs
    5 days to 2 weeks duration
    • Sudden onset “hits you like a ton of bricks”
    • Muscle / body aches
    • Fever causing chills & sweats
    • Fatigue / weak / dizzy
    • Sore Throat preceding Nasal Congestion
    • Nasal Congestion stuffed-up, hard to breathe
    • Headache
    • Swollen glands

    • Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot multiply or thrive on surfaces because they need living cells of a host, and may survive on a surface for about 3 hours.
    • Cold viruses, i.e. rhinovirus, thrive in lower humidity.  If your house is too dry or the humidity outside is low, the lining of your nose is likely to be drier.
    • Cold viruses live only in the nose of humans, not animals (except primates).
    • Cold viruses reproduce every 8 hours.
    • Cold virus can still be contagious 3 days after symptoms disappear.

    sources for this article:

    Brigham Health Hub
    WebMD & Wikipedia
    Understanding Colds
    Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials
    New York Times Health “The Claim: A Cold is Contagious Only Before Symptoms Emerge” By Anahad O’Connor March 15, 2005