Questions are circulating regarding three viruses that have been making their appearance in our communities. The common cold, flu, and COVID-19 affect people all over the world and now, more than ever, people wonder how these three are similar and different.

Flu vs COVID vs Cold

The Chest Cold vs COVID: Similarities

COVID and the common cold are caused by viruses. The common cold and COVID-19 spread in a similar fashion as well.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, COVID-19 and colds can spread when someone coughs or sneezes. These respiratory droplets then carry themselves to someone else’s mouth, nose, or eyes. Alternatively, the respiratory droplets can contaminate surfaces. In this way the virus is contracted through physically touching that contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

The cold and COVID-19 also have similar symptoms which include:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Congestion

Cold Symptoms vs COVID: Differences

While both of these diseases are caused by viruses, they are not caused by the same viruses. According to the Mayo Clinic, COVID is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 while the cold is typically caused by rhinoviruses. Also, cold symptoms tend to appear 3 days after exposure to the virus whereas COVID-19 symptoms take up to 14 days after exposure to make an appearance.

The Mayo Clinic also explains that while colds are no walk in the park, they are usually harmless and a person can recover to full health within 3 to 10 days. The same cannot be said for COVID.

Unfortunately, COVID affects everyone differently and in some cases can cause serious complications or outcomes. Recovery from this disease can vary from person to person and lingering symptoms such as lack of taste and smell can persist.

The Flu vs COVID-19: Similarities

Flu symptoms are alarmingly similar to those associated with COVID-19. According to an article posted by New York Presbyterian Health Matters, COVID-19 and influenza (the flu) can cause:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Like COVID-19, the flu is also a virus and considered a “contagious respiratory disease,” as stated by the Mayo Clinic. They point out that COVID and the flu can sometimes not have any symptoms in some, whereas others may have severe symptoms or complications.

Unfortunately, a person can have the flu and coronavirus at the same time according to an article published by Scripps. The good news is that both illnesses can be determined by tests facilitated by local health providers, including all Advanced Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine clinics in Colorado.

COVID testing includes the antigen or molecular (like the RT-PCR) tests. There are also rapid flu tests and COVID flu combo tests. Advanced Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine offers the all-in-one molecular test that tests for COVID, flu A&B, and RSV. It’s one swab with four test results.

Flu Symptoms vs COVID: Differences

During this pandemic many people ask, “how different is COVID from the common flu?” With symptoms so similar, it makes distinguishing the two very difficult. However, as New York Presbyterian Health Matters mentions, the common flu does not tend to affect a person’s ability to taste or smell unless there is persisting congestion.

The Mayo Clinic also mentions that unlike COVID-19, flu symptoms can appear 1 to 4 days after exposure. It is also known that COVID only has one antiviral treatment whereas the flu has multiple antiviral drugs to treat symptoms. Not only that, but there is also an annual flu vaccine widely available in a shot or nasal spray options.

On that note, the question arises, “does the flu shot protect against COVID?” Unfortunately, the answer to that is no. Since they are two very different viruses, the flu vaccine does not protect a person from contracting COVID-19.

However, this does not mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated for the flu. As Harvard Health Publishing puts it, it is still important to get your annual flu shot to decrease the severity of symptoms and possibly avoid contracting the virus altogether.

Flu vs COVID vs Cold: Summary 

When breaking down the similarities and differences of these viruses it is clear that only a few symptoms differ between the three. The flu and common cold do not have persistent loss of taste and smell, which usually is a big distinguishing factor between COVID-19 and the other two. Otherwise the flu and COVID symptoms can be almost impossible to differentiate without testing.

Colds, on the other hand, tend to be more tolerable and typically do not have symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting. People are also able to recover from colds more quickly than the flu and COVID-19. Colds seem to be just a part of the human condition and unfortunately at this time there is no cure for these pesky viruses according to the CDC.

Prevention: Ways to Avoid Getting Sick

Do not lose hope. While these viruses do not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, there are still ways to avoid contracting them. The Mayo Clinic suggests getting the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

Other ways to protect yourself include:

  • Get vaccinated! Click here for our COVID vaccine locations.
  • Social distancing
  • Wearing masks in public places
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Avoiding large crowds
  • Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Frequently disinfect hard surfaces

Where to Get Testing and Treatment

Stop by any Advanced Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine locations to get treated for COVID, the flu, or the common cold. We recommend scheduling online but walk-ins are also available! Click here for a list of clinics and to schedule.

We are open 7 days a week because as we say at Advanced Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine, “We Care. Every Day.”