Coronavirus, Flu or the Common Cold: Know the Difference

With all the news around COVID-19, the flu is getting the backseat to all the attention. But what you should know is that flu season is still in full force. That said, for most Americans, the threat of the seasonal flu is currently greater than that of the coronavirus. To protect yours and your child’s, we’re sharing information to help you remain vigilant about flu symptoms, understand how the flu, the common cold and coronavirus differ and learn prevention strategies to help protect you and your child.

How do the Coronavirus, Flu, and Common Cold Compare?

They are all infectious viruses that affect the respiratory tract and are spread person-to-person through direct contact with droplets (either airborne or on a surface) that contain the different viruses itself. However, the common cold rarely has serious complications, but, the flu and coronavirus can.

How do the Coronavirus, Flu, and Common Cold Differ?

The seasonal flu is caused by contagious influenza viruses that can infect the nose, throat and, at times, the lungs. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe, leading to death in rarer cases.

Flu symptoms often appear suddenly and include:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever/chills
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

The coronavirus is a contagious virus that mainly infects the lungs. While some people have only minor symptoms, others may develop pneumonia or severe lung damage.

Coronavirus symptoms appear after a great incubation period and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

The common cold has a gradual onset as well, but with milder symptoms that can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

How to prevent the Coronavirus, Flu, or Common Cold:

The CDC recommends the annual flu vaccine as the best way to prevent the flu. Since there’s no vaccine available for the coronavirus currently, prevention focuses on following everyday prevention activities.

According to the CDC, these strategies can help prevent the transmission of many respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus, the flu, or the common cold.

  • Avoiding others who are sick
  • After getting medical care, staying home when sick
  • Using a tissue or elbow to cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects with a disinfectant daily
  • Frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol