Common Illnesses

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

The symptoms of a cold can include:
  • muscle aches
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • sometimes a low grade fever
It typically lasts for a few days or even up to one week. It is an infection caused by a virus and there is no cure but there are many over the counter medications that can be helpful in treating the symptoms.

WebMD's Frequently Asked Questions About the Common Cold

Seasonal flu is also a viral infection. The symptoms are different from a cold. The onset is very sudden and includes headache:
  • high fever
  • profound muscle aches
  • runny nose
  • cough

The worst symptoms will usually last about 3 days but it may take up to a week for you to feel better. The treatment of the symptoms of the flu is similar to what is recommended for the treatment of a cold. There is no cure for the flu as it is a viral infection. Health care providers may sometimes prescribe antiviral medications to patients that get the flu and are at high risk for complications such as pneumonia. These patient groups would include patients with a history of asthma or diabetes.

The BEST way to prevent the flu is to receive an annual flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals over the age of six months. Student Health Services administers flu vaccine every fall to all students. Please see here for more information regarding the seasonal flu vaccine. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a lot of good information on the flu at their website.

Antibiotics are medications that are used to treat specific bacterial infections. Both the flu and colds are viral and there is no benefit to use an antibiotic. There is potential for side effects from the antibiotic and bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics when they are misused.

If your health care provider determines that you have developed a secondary bacterial infection as a result of the flu or a cold (such as a bacterial sinus infection or pneumonia), they may determine that an antibiotic may be indicated.


Mononucleosis is a viral infection that is typically spread through saliva. It has been referred to as the "kissing" disease because of the way it is spread. Spread may also be through sharing water bottles, utensils and food. All that being said, mono is NOT highly contagious and roommates or household contacts are not likely to develop mono. The symptoms include fever, very sore throat, swollen tonsils and fatigue. The best way to prevent mono is by frequent hand washing, eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise.

Mono Facts and Fictions

  1. My roommate just tested positive for mono, I need to be tested to make sure I do not have it.
    • False... As it states above, mono is not highly contagious and there is no reason to "check" for it when there are no symptoms.

  2. I had mono last year and now have a sore throat. I think I have mono again.
    • False…Mono is caused by the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) and your body will produce antibodies to the virus. These antibodies prevent you from getting the illness again.

  3. My doctor told me that there is no cure for mono.
    • True… we can treat the symptoms of mono with ibuprofen, Tylenol and other over the counter medicines. Since mono is caused by a virus, there is no cure.

  4. I have a fever and very sore throat since yesterday. My strep test is negative but I think should be tested for mono.
    • False…We are testing for the antibodies against the virus, if we test too early in the illness it will likely be negative even if you have mono.

  5. I have mono and I am afraid I am going to lose my semester and cannot go to class.
    • False…Most patients have symptoms for up to one week and feel better after that. Many patients feel well enough to go to class during the acute part of the illness. You are not required to stay out of class with mono and can go if you are feeling up to it.

  6. I was diagnosed with mono 2 weeks ago and am feeling better. My doctor, however, has told me that I cannot play Rugby for another month?
    • True…. Sometimes the spleen may become swollen when you have mono. The spleen is tucked up beneath your rib cage on the left side. It is hard to tell by physical exam if your spleen is swollen and when enlarged, there is a high risk that your spleen may rupture with abdominal trauma. We typically advise patients to avoid ALL contact sports for 6-8 weeks after diagnosis with mono.
For additional information about mono try visiting the American Academy of Family Physicians web page or contact CUA Student Health Services.

Prevention of Common Illnesses

The best protection from illness is sleeping well, eating healthy, exercise, drinking plenty of fluids and handwashing. Think of how many other people may have touched that door knob before you and maybe after sneezing or coughing into their hand. You touch the knob and have something to eat before you know it, their cold viral particles or Norovirus (causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) particles have entered your body and pretty soon you are not feeling well.