How do I Tell the Difference Between Flu and Strep Throat?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 10 February 2019
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A major difference between the flu and strep throat is that strep is caused by bacteria, while the flu is caused by a virus. Differentiating between these conditions can be done by recognizing the major symptoms of each illness. Influenza, also known as the flu, is an upper respiratory disease, marked by fever, chills, and body aches. In the presence of the flu, a cough and extreme fatigue are also common. Strep throat will have some similar symptoms, though not typically cause upper respiratory symptoms such as nasal congestion and sneezing.

The flu and strep throat are both serious illnesses that can often lead to major complications. Both flu and strep throat are highly contagious. While the two share similarities, a sure way to distinguish between them is by a physician's examination. If fever and sore throat are present, the doctor will examine the back of the throat.

Generally in the case of strep, it is common to have white patches in the back of the throat or on the tonsils. These white spots are not typically found in patients suffering from the flu, however. If the doctor recognizes signs of step throat, he will generally order a throat culture. A throat culture is performed by swabbing the back of the throat, and preparing a microscopic slide of the saliva. If the test is positive, the culture will show signs of the streptococcus bacteria, which produces symptoms of strep throat.


If you have been diagnosed with strep throat, you will most likely be given a course of antibiotics to kill the strain of bacteria in your body. Antibiotics will have no impact on viral infections, however. If you are suffering from the flu, bed rest, hydration, and over-the-counter pain relievers for body aches are basically all that can be done until the virus runs its course. There are certain anti-viral medications a doctor may prescribe, but unless they're taken at the onset of the illness, this medication will be ineffective.

If you haven't seen a physician and are unable to differentiate between the flu and strep throat, there are other symptoms that should provide clues. A dry, hacking cough accompanied by a stuffy or runny nose is almost never caused by strep. If you are experiencing these symptoms, along with a sore throat and fever, most likely you have a viral infection or the flu. If, however, your only symptoms are fever, swollen glands, and difficulty in swallowing, you most likely have a strep throat infection.


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Post 4

@StarJo – Even severe strep throat doesn't raise your body temperature as high as the flu does. Everyone I have known with the flu has had a fever over 100 degrees.

I had it myself a few years ago, and mine got as high as 104 degrees. That is bordering the danger zone. I have always heard that if you get a fever of over 104 degrees, you should get help immediately.

I was out of my head when I had the flu, and I think the fever was making me crazy. While it was a little bit fun to be loopy and confused, having sweats followed by the shakes was not cool at all.

Post 3

With the flu, you feel generally miserable all over. With strep throat, your misery is confined to one location.

However, I think that strep throat is more severe than the flu. It makes your throat swell so much that you can barely even swallow your own saliva.

Every time that I have had strep throat, I have had a fever of at least 100 degrees. Is the fever that accompanies the flu lower or higher than this?

Post 2

@kylee07drg – I know that strep treatment is important, because it can turn into either pneumonia or meningitis if you do nothing. I always see a doctor if I suspect that I have strep throat.

The flu has no remedy, so I just have to deal with being sick for a week when I have it. One advantage to the flu over strep throat is that you can get vaccinated for it.

I had the flu twice in my life, and that was in the days before flu shots were widely available. Now, I get a shot once a year. I get strep once every few years, but I no longer get the flu.

Post 1

Strep throat causes fever, and so does the flu, so I can see why some people might confuse the two. Also, while strep throat won't affect your nose, it sometimes causes you to develop chest congestion and a horrible cough.

That's only if you don't get it treated, though. I once went without treatment, and the infection spread to my chest. It was much harder to get rid of then.

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