Interested in learning the difference between cold, flu and coronavirus? Read more on their symptoms, causes, duration and how to spot the difference.
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With the common cold, flu and coronavirus (COVID-19) having very similar symptoms, how can we tell the difference? Here are a few ways you can distinguish between these viruses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu (influenza) and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses that are caused by different viruses. Each has similar symptoms, which makes it difficult to tell the difference between them. Colds are typically more mild, with symptoms more likely to be limited to a runny or stuffy nose, and usually don’t result in serious health problems.
Both cold and flu symptoms can include:
However, the onset of flu symptoms are usually much faster, more intense, and accompanied by a fever. The flu can also have very serious associated complications.
Because of the flu’s more serious symptoms, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months gets a flu vaccine every season.
According to the CDC, the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses that are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.
Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.
Both the flu and COVID-19 share these symptoms:
Key differences between the flu and COVID-19:
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to much more serious diseases and can infect both humans and animals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new strain is SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first identified in Wuhan, China in January 2020, and is related to two other coronaviruses that have caused outbreaks in recent years: Middle East respiratory syndrome, also known as MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
For up-to-date information on the virus, we recommend visiting the CDC website.
According to the CDC, patients with confirmed COVID-19 infections have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of:
According to the CDC, the new coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19 is most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:
Influenza, also commonly known as “flu,” is a viral infection of the upper respiratory and/or lower respiratory system that attacks the lungs, nose and throat and presents itself with intense — and sometimes serious — symptoms.
The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system attacking the nose, throat and sinuses when inhaling virus particles from an infected person’s sneeze, cough or speech. Its symptoms are similar to flu symptoms but generally much more mild.
For both COVID-19 and flu, it’s possible to spread the virus for at least 1 day before experiencing any symptoms. Research is still being conducted on how long you can spread the virus if you have COVID-19, however health experts suggest you will likely be contagious for a longer period of time than if you had the flu. The CDC says that older children and adults with flu appear to be most contagious during the initial 3–4 days of their illness, but many remain contagious for about 7 days. Meanwhile if you have COVID-19, experts say it’s possible to be contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive. This might vary based on if you are experiencing symptoms and/or the severity of your illness.
Both of the viruses that cause COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory viruses that can spread via droplets, which means it can spread when someone who has either virus coughs, sneezes or touches their face and then touches a surface. To help prevent the spread on surfaces, use a disinfectant EPA-approved to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and make sure you always follow the product label’s instructions for proper usage and contact time.
See our list of products that are approved by the EPA to kill COVID-19.
This fall, when considering how to protect your family from both the flu and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, many best practices may be the same but it’s still important to increase additional protections for the flu. Dr. Darria Long-Gillespie, ER physician, provides you and your family tips to help prevent both the flu and COVID-19.
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