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Cold or flu? Here’s how to tell the difference

Click to play video: 'Winter colds and flu'
Winter colds and flu
WATCH ABOVE: Global News medical specialist Dr. Mitch Shulman drops by Global News Morning to give Laura Casella useful tips on how to deal with seasonal colds and the flu – Nov 28, 2016

December is almost upon us and while some think of it as the season to be jolly, ’tis also the season for the sniffles.

Cold and flu season peaks in December, according to Global News medical specialist Dr. Mitch Shulman, with family gatherings prime breeding grounds for spreading viruses.

That’s why Shulman recommends getting vaccinated now.

“It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to give your body enough immunity,” he said. “So now is the perfect time to get vaccinated.”

For those worried they’ll get the flu from the vaccine, Shulman quickly dispelled the myth.

“No. You can’t,” he said. “The flu vaccine does not contain flu virus. It contains pieces of the coat that the flu virus wears.”

In layman’s terms, what that means is your body will be able to recognize the virus “by the coat it wears,” and go into attack mode.

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READ MORE: What happens to your body when you get the flu, step by step

As the name implies, the flu shot only works on flu viruses.

“There are thousands of different viruses that give you a cold,” Shulman said. “There are so many cold viruses that you’re always going to get a cold.”

That’s one of the differences between a cold and a flu.

“The flu is one of a very limited number of influenza viruses, A and B,” Shulman said.

The implication being you can build up immunity to the flu virus, either by actually getting the flu or by being vaccinated.

READ MORE: 7 steps to surviving the cold and flu season without getting sick

Another difference between the two is the severity and longevity of the symptoms.

Cold symptoms will be milder and can include a very low-grade fever, stuffy nose, sore throat and a cough.

“It lasts about a week and you get better,” Shulman said.

According to Shulman, there’s really no confusing the two.

“When you get the flu, you know you’ve got the flu,” he said. “This is rip-roaring high fever, rip-roaring sore throat, muscle aches and pains everywhere in your body.”

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The recovery period is also longer.

“You’re out for at least a week and it can take you a week or two to recover.”

Furthermore people with colds are unlikely to suffer severe complications.

The same can’t be said about the flu.

“The flu is the thing that kills people,” Shulman said. “Unfortunately the very young or the very old, or people with underlying medical problems, the flu is such a severe viral illness it’s enough to push you over the edge.”

READ MORE:  What Canadians should expect from the 2016-17 flu season

Whether your case of the sniffles turns out to be just a cold or something more, Shulman said the key thing is to take good care of yourself.

Shulman insisted that prevention is really the best medicine.

“The first step in prevention is washing your hands over and over and over and over again.”

In a pinch, Shulman said hand sanitizer works just as well as soap.

He also suggested keeping a clean work space, especially in a shared work environment and to avoid touching your own face throughout the day.

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In the end, following basic hygiene rules and getting a flu shot could be the secret to a jolly holiday season.

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