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Cold, Flu or COVID-19?

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Cold, Flu or COVID-19?

How Do You Know Which You Have?

By Allison Kozicharow; Edited by Elizabeth Fine

Your throat is sore. Your nose is runny. You feel sick, but with what? The common cold, influenza and COVID-19 can have generic symptoms that make it hard to tell.

All three ailments are contagious, respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. According to the National Institutes of Health, in general:

  • A cold is usually the mildest of the three.
  • Flu can mimic a cold, but the complaints are often more severe: fever, chills, aches and fatigue.
  • COVID-19 can share all of the flu symptoms, but spreads more easily and symptoms tend to be more extreme and can include loss of taste or smell.
  • COVID-19, in some cases, can develop into long COVID, which unlike cold and flu can linger for months or even years.

Often it is impossible to guess which illness you are suffering from, so the only way to know for certain is to consult your healthcare provider.

Aside from practical actions such as frequent handwashing, and wearing masks and social distancing as appropriate, the best way to protect yourself from illness is to stay current on your vaccines. Get a flu shot every fall and keep up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines, especially for people with weakened immune systems.

WiRED International urges you to stay informed and healthy this season!

WiRED offers many modules on respiratory diseases. For more information click these links: