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Is it Cold, Flu or COVID-19?

Protect Yourself and OthersBy now, we are all familiar with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. As we approach cold and flu season, how do you know if that throat tickle or cough is a cold, the flu or COVID-19?

COVID-19

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and loss of appetite. Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are less common symptoms. Some people don’t have symptoms. It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear.

If you are concerned about your symptoms, contact your doctor to find out whether you should be tested. Most people who get COVID-19 will be able to recover at home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several things you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Studies show there is no added health benefit to using antibacterial soap compared to plain soap in a non-health care setting.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw away the tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a face mask or cloth face covering when you are outside your home.

Cold Versus Flu

Flu and the common cold are both respiratory ailments, but they are caused by different viruses. Because both have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Generally, the flu is worse than the common cold with more intense symptoms.

Tests done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu. The symptoms of flu can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue.

These same symptoms can indicate a cold but are usually less severe. Most people get colds in the winter or spring, but it is possible to get a cold any time of year. Adults have an average of two or three colds per year, and most people recover within seven to 10 days.

Prevention

There are three actions that can help protect you against the flu.

First, everyone six months of age or older should get a flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. A flu shot can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work. The flu vaccine has also been shown to be lifesaving in children.

Second, some healthy habits can help prevent illness:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands.

Third, antiviral drugs can help if your flu symptoms are severe. Antiviral drugs are different than antibiotics. Flu antivirals are prescription medicines that are not available over the counter. Antivirals can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They can also help prevent serious complications.

By taking these simple actions, you can help lessen the severity of colds or flu or prevent them altogether.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Harvard Medical School

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