The weather is turning cooler, the days are getting shorter, and all of a sudden more and more New Jersey residents are coughing, sneezing and feeling sick.

The state Department of Health reports over the past week influenza-like activity is up from low to moderate in parts of Central and North Jersey. But how do you know if you have the flu or a common cold?

According to state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan, it’s sometimes difficult to tell.

Influenza and the common cold share similar symptoms, but with the flu, you will usually feel worse.

“With flu, a lot of times the respiratory symptoms might be abrupt and you’ll tend to have a fever and people report aches and chills, and people feel tired and weak," she said.

On the other hand, with a cold “the symptom onsets tend to be a little more gradual, you tend to not have a fever and other symptoms are a little bit less severe.”

Tan said those in a high-risk group, including the elderly, women who are pregnant and those with certain medical conditions where their immune systems are compromised, might be at risk for serious complications, so it’s always best to check with your healthcare provider if you do become ill.

So what’s the best way to protect yourself from getting sick?

Tan recommends the flu shot but it won't protect you from the cold.

To avoid getting a cold at this time of year, she said you need to practice “great hand hygiene: washing your hands, that’s actually great to do all year round, covering your cough and your sneeze.”

Tan also recommends getting sufficient rest and avoiding situations where you will come into contact with people who may be ill.

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