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Symptoms of Common Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

Posted on October 13, 2020

As we enter the fall and winter, common colds and the flu are expected to spread. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a third virus that can make people sick. The symptoms of these three illnesses can overlap, making it confusing to know which virus is making you sick. In this blog post, we break down the difference between influenza (flu), the common cold, and COVID-19 to identify which symptoms are most likely to occur, and how severely, for each illness.


Flu:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*Its important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.


COVID-19:

Given that it is a novel virus, we are still learning about COVID-19. Based on the most recent medical and scientific data, it appears that some people can become very sick with COVID-19 and need to be hospitalized while others feel less sick. The hallmark symptoms that distinguish COVID-19 from flu and a cold are shortness of breath, loss of taste, and loss of smell. Other common symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea


Common Cold:

The greatest difference between flu, COVID-19, and the common cold is that colds are usually mild. While there is overlap, someone affected with a cold is likely to experience the following symptoms to a lesser degree than they would if they were infected with flu or COVID-19:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Body aches

As always, please contact your trusted healthcare provider with any questions about your specific symptoms.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm#complications

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm

https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2020/03/whats-the-difference-between-a-cold-the-flu-and-coronavirus/

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