Telling the Difference Between the Flu, COVID-19 and a Cold

October 30, 2020

Fall and winter are commonly referred to as cold and flu season, but in 2020, it’s also COVID-19 season! COVID-19 cases have continued to rise in the US since March and there’s no sign that will be slowing down anytime soon. The flu, cold, and COVID-19 all present similar symptoms and not knowing what’s causing your symptoms can be a very scary experience. Let’s discuss some of the key ways that you can tell the difference between these illnesses and put your mind at ease heading into winter.

The Flu

Influenza is a virus that typically comes on very suddenly. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • General fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

Not every case of the flu will show all of these symptoms. The most effective way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. A flu vaccine is available to anyone over 6 months of age and is very effective at preventing the flu.


COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory virus. Some people may have the virus and show no symptoms, while others will have symptoms that range from mild to life threatening. Symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after being exposed to the virus. COVID-19 displays the same symptoms as the flu, but it also comes with two different symptoms that sets COVID-19 apart from the flu. A sudden loss or taste or smell and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing are symptoms that are not seen in cases of the flu but are very common in COVID-19 cases. There is no COVID-19 vaccine available yet, but you can limit your risk of exposure through mask wearing, social distancing, and good hand hygiene.

Common Cold

A common cold is generally much milder than the flu and symptoms come on more gradually. Common cold symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Postnasal drip

It’s rare for a common cold to cause a fever, so if you develop a fever it’s more likely that you have the flu or COVID-19. Colds can generally be treated at home using over the counter cold medication, rest, and plenty of hydration.

If you are sick and need to be tested for covid-19, or to get your annual flu vaccine, contact AFC Urgent Care Saugus today! If you believe you might have COVID-19, stay home until you speak with a medical provider and determine if you need to get tested.

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