Colds vs. COVID vs. the Flu

How to tell the difference between colds, COVID-19 and the flu

(RxWiki News) The season is changing, and COVID-19 is still here. And with colder weather comes the threat of colds and the flu. But how can you tell the difference between the three?

While COVID-19 took the world by surprise and has since taken the lives of millions of people around the world, the flu remains a serious threat every year, taking hundreds of thousands of lives. Both viruses are very serious. The cold, on the other hand, is less serious but remains a persistent part of our lives each winter season.

The good news is that you can take steps to avoid all of these illnesses. Read on for more about the similarities and differences between colds, the flu and COVID-19, as well as how you can protect yourself.

Similarities Between COVID-19 and the Flu

The similarities between COVID-19 and the seasonal flu can make it difficult to tell which virus you might have unless you visit a doctor and get specific testing. For example, the symptoms of the two illnesses can be very similar. These include headaches, muscle and body aches, runny or stuffy nose, tiredness, breathing trouble, cough, and fever or chills.

Symptoms can show up in as little as two days after exposure to both the coronavirus and the flu virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And it is possible to be infected with either virus without showing any symptoms.

The flu and COVID-19 are spread from person to person in very similar ways, too. These viruses can both spread between people who are in close contact with one another. The virus is spread by particles when someone with the virus, coughs, sneezes and/or talks.

Also, infections with either illness can put the following groups at serious risk: pregnant women and older adults.

Differences Between COVID-19 and the Flu

While it can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, there are some key differences to keep in mind.

The symptoms of the two illnesses are very similar, but COVID-19 tends to cause these symptoms to be much more serious for some people when compared to the flu. Additionally, COVID-19 can cause a loss of taste or smell.

Additionally, infection with either illness can show up in as little as two days after exposure, but the flu typically pops up one to four days after infection. For COVID-19, symptoms tend to show up between two and five days after infection, the CDC noted.

The two viruses spread in very similar ways, but health officials noted that COVID-19 appears to be more contagious than the flu virus. Health officials noted COVID-19 appears to cause more "superspreading" events. This means the virus can rapidly and easily spread to a lot of people. 

The Flu vs. the Common Cold

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.

The flu is caused by influenza viruses only. The cold can be caused by more than 200 viruses including rhinoviruses which are most common type.

Both the flu and the common cold can spread between people who are in close contact with one another. Colds are spread through droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air by someone sick.

The flu is usually worse than the common cold. Flu symptoms are typically more intense and tend to start all of a sudden. Cold symptoms tend to show up more gradual. 

Flu symptoms include fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and cough.

People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds don't usually result in serious health problems like pneumonia or hospitalization, which are complications that can happen with the flu.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccination to prevent the flu, as well as vaccination to protect against COVID-19. Wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with sick people to help prevent colds, the flu and COVID-19.

Ask your pharmacist and doctor any questions you have about colds, COVID-19 or the flu.

Last Updated:
December 3, 2022