Cold Vs. Flu Vs COVID-19- Basic Difference

With the current pandemic of COVID-19 happening worldwide, it can be challenging to sift through all the information out there and figure out what's true and what's not. One of the critical questions is: how do we identify between a cold, flu, and COVID-19? In this guide, we will learn the differences between a cold, flu, and COVID-19 in terms of symptoms, causes, and treatments. We will also explore how to identify each type of viral infection so that you can make an informed decision on how to protect your body during this troubling time best.


Both cold and flu are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses, and they share many symptoms, but there are some key differences.

For one, colds generally come on gradually, while the flu hits people suddenly and hard. Colds also tend to be milder than the flu and don't usually require people to miss work or school. On the other hand, the flu can make people feel so sick they can't get out of bed for several days.

Cold Symptoms Include

  • sneezing

  • sore throat

  • coughing

  • congestion

  • runny nose


It is a contagious respiratory illness triggered by influenza viruses that infect our nasal, throat, and lungs. Usually, it results in mild to severe illness and rarely in death. The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year.

Symptoms of Flu Include

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue (tiredness)


The most significant difference between COVID-19 and the flu is that COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, meaning it's a new virus that hasn't been previously identified in humans. Flu viruses, on the other hand, are well-known and tend to cause similar symptoms each year.

COVID-19 is also more likely to cause severe symptoms than the flu. While most people who get the flu will recover within a few weeks, COVID-19 has been linked to serious health complications like pneumonia, which can be deadly.

There are some similarities between COVID-19 and the flu, however. Both viruses can cause fever, cough, and fatigue. And both are spread through contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze.

The best way to protect yourself from both viruses is to get vaccinated yearly against the flu and to practice good hygiene habits like washing your hands often and avoiding close contact with sick people.

Symptoms of Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

The three main types of coronavirus are Cold, Flu and COVID-19. They differ in their symptoms and how severe they are.

Cold − A cold is the mildest form of coronavirus. Symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. These symptoms usually last for a few days and go away independently. Usually, over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen relieve pain and fever. Drink lots of fluids and get rest to help your body recover.

Flu − Flu is more serious than a cold and can cause severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, headache, coughing, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors may prescribe you antiviral drugs, and you should also drink lots of fluids and sound rest to recover faster.

COVID-19 − COVID-19 is the most severe form of coronavirus and can be fatal. Symptoms include fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. Till now, there is no medicine for COVID-19, and it can only be treated symptomatically. In the course of these symptoms, fetch medical attention immediately, as it can lead to death if left untreated.

Treatment for Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

There is no specific treatment for these viruses – they all have to run their course. However, there are things you can do to help relieve your symptoms. Rest and plenty of fluids are critical for a cold or the flu. You can also take an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever or pain relief. For COVID-19, there is no specific treatment at this time either. However, you may need hospitalization for supportive care if you develop severe symptoms. This includes oxygen therapy and fluids through an IV.

Prevention of Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

There are several ways to prevent cold, flu, and COVID-19. The best way to prevent these illnesses is to get vaccinated. Vaccines help your body build immunity against the viruses that cause these illnesses. However, to prevent these illnesses, you can do the following things −

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick

  • Staying home when you are sick

  • Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough

  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are often touched

When to see a Doctor

In case of a cold, you could get a fever for a few days, your nose may run constantly, and you may have a sore throat. Colds usually last about a week. Flu symptoms are similar to cold symptoms, but they are more severe. You may have a fever that lasts for several days, and you may feel so ill that you can't get out of bed. Flu symptoms usually improve after a week or so. But some people (especially young children, older adults, and people with chronic medical conditions) can develop serious complications from the flu, including pneumonia.

COVID-19 is a new illness that can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms may include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. COVID-19 is spread through contact with respiratory secretions from an infected person (coughing or sneezing), close personal contact, or contact with contaminated surfaces (such as doorknobs or countertops). The incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to be 2-14 days.

See a doctor right away if you have the following −

  • Fever over 100°F

  • Persistent cough

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Shortness of breath


Although colds, flu, and COVID-19 all have similar symptoms, there are some critical differences between them. Knowing how to differentiate between the three is essential to manage their respective treatments effectively. Being aware of these distinctions will help you better prepare for each virus. Knowing that your body may react differently based on which virus you have contracted can help ensure that you receive the proper treatment protocol and avoid any further health complications.

Updated on: 24-Jan-2023


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