Frequently Asked Questions


What is the difference between cold and flu?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more intense.

Cold and Flu Comparison Table (PDF)
Seasonal Flu and Pandemic Flu Comparison Table (PDF)


Will antibiotics help when I get the flu?

Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria and are, therefore, only useful for treating bacterial infections. The flu is a viral infection, not bacterial, and because of this it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Taking antibiotics to fight the flu can actually be harmful to your health. Inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance, which is a growing health concern.

What is the stomach flu?

Viral gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses that results in vomiting or diarrhea.  It is often called the "stomach flu," although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.  Symptoms of "stomach flu" may include headache, fever, and abdominal cramps.  In general, the symptoms begin one to two days following infection and may last for one to ten days.

Is there a vaccine for seasonal influenza?

There are two types of vaccines that protect against seasonal influenza.  The "flu shot" is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle.  A different kind of vaccine, called the nasal-spray flu vaccine was approved in 2003.  Both flu vaccines (the flu shot and the nasal-spray flu vaccine) work in the same way; they cause antibodies to develop in the body, and these antibodies provide protection against influenza virus infection.


Pandemic Influenza


Is there a vaccine for pandemic influenza?

Pandemic vaccine will protect against the pandemic influenza strain but will only be available after the emerging virus of the next influenza pandemic has been isolated. Persons vaccinated may need a booster dose to be fully protected.  If production of a vaccine starts on the day a pandemic is declared, it is thought that at least four to six months will be necessary to produce the first doses of vaccine.

Will antiviral medications work for pandemic influenza?

Antivirals are drugs that are used to prevent or cure a disease caused by a virus.  The antiviral medication interferes with the ability of the virus to multiply in number or spread from cell to cell.  Use of antiviral drugs does not eliminate the risk of complications, and some complications can be life threatening.


Avian Influenza


How is avian influenza spread?

Avian influenza is primarily spread by direct contact between healthy birds and infected birds.  Wild birds can introduce avian influenza into domestic poultry flocks through fecal contamination of the environment.  Within a poultry house, transfer of the virus between birds can also occur via airborne particulates.  On a limited basis, the highly pathogenic form of avian influenza (HPAI) can be spread from birds to people as a result of extensive direct contact with infected birds.

Does avian influenza threaten human health?

Since December 2003, a growing number of Asian, European and African countries have reported outbreaks of HPAI in chickens and ducks.  Humans also have been affected, but only those with very close, direct contact with infected birds.

Can I get avian influenza from eating or preparing poultry or eggs?

Proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs provides protection against avian influenza virus, as it does other viruses and bacteria.  Safe food handling and preparation is important at all times.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following precautions when handling poultry:
Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry and eggs   
Clean cutting boards and other utensils with soap and hot water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods
Use a food thermometer to make sure you cook poultry to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.