Does my child have the common cold, seasonal flu or H1N1?

By Marvin Harper, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer at Children’s Hospital Boston

It can be difficult to tell the difference between seasonal flu,  H1N1 and the common cold.  Here are some features you can use to help spot the differences:

Symptoms include stuffy nose and congestion, and usually last three to five days.

Seasonal flu
Symptoms include dry cough, fever, painful body aches, possible nausea and diarrhea, severe fatigue, respiratory problems and dehydration.

Symptoms are the same as the seasonal flu, and just like seasonal flu, young children and those with weakened immune systems may experience more severe illness (pneumonia, respiratory failure and death have been reported).

The major difference between H1N1 and the seasonal flu? The virus that causes H1N1 is quite different from the influenza virus to which many people already have some immune protection, due to prior disease or vaccination. As a result, H1N1 is easier to acquire and may cause more symptoms than would typically be experienced with the seasonal influenza virus.

Remember, the best way to avoid getting the cold and the flu (seasonal and H1N1) is to wash your hands, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and get your seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccinations as soon as they are available.

It is not generally important to specifically determine whether your child has H1N1 or the seasonal flu, but if your child is less than 2 years of age, or in a group that is at increased risk from influenza infections, you should contact your care provider to discuss whether anti-viral treatment may be helpful.

For more information on Flu (seasonal and H1N1) from Children’s Hospital Boston, visit