Coronavirus: what's the difference between Covid-19, the flu and a cold?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to place incredible strain on the emergency services, it's essential to check symptoms.

Coronavirus: what's the difference between Covid-19, the flu and a cold?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues its advance across the globe, health services are overwhelmed with cases on a day-to-day basis and as the battle against Covid-19 reaches its zenith in many countries, it's important to know what differentiates the novel coronavirus, the seasonal flu or a simple cold. 


Both the seasonal flu and Covid-19 present fever as a symptom and both the novel coronavirus and standard influenza are likely to result in body temperatures of over 38º. A temperature of that scale is generally considered high, but does not necessarily mean that coronavirus is the culprit. 

The New England Journal of Medicine tested 1,099 patients who displayed symptoms of the novel coronavirus in China in March and 89% of them reported they had experienced fever. If no fever presents itself, coronavirus can probably be ruled out. However, if a patient records a temperature in excess of 38º it is best to not take anything for granted and to seek proper medical advice.  


Once it has been determined if a patient has fever and a temperature of over 38º, the second key symptom comes into play: a dry cough. Colds, flu and the coronavirus all generate coughs of different kinds, but extensive research has concluded that only if a dry cough is presented as a symptom should a patient be concerned about coronavirus. 

Muscle pain

The level of muscle pain present if a patient has a cold, flu or Covid-19 can be instructive. In cases of acute influenza or coronavirus, symptoms may include pain the arms, legs, neck and back. In the case of a simple cold, these symptoms may also present themselves but in considerably less acute levels. 

Fatigue and breathing difficulties 

The above symptoms are key indicators that differentiate between the common cold, seasonal flu and Covid-19. Although other underlying conditions can contribute to these as part of the normal process of cold or influenza symptoms, experts deem both as likely signs that a patient has contracted Covid-19. 

Difficulty in breathing - more related to pneumonia than common cold symptoms - and general fatigue, accompanied by fever and a high temperature, are probable indications that a patient has potentially contracted Covid-19. In this case, proper medical advice should be sought.   

Important note

These are only a rough guideline to the various symptoms of the novel coronavirus, based on generally available medical information. 

Professional information on the coronavirus and how to proceed if you think you have symptoms is available here.

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