Is it cold, flu or coronavirus?
To help you differentiate between the three illnesses Dr Sam Rodgers explains the symptoms of each illness to look out for.
As we approach the winter months, the UK is entering the traditional seasons for colds and flu, with the extra difficulty this year that symptoms of common colds and flu can be similar to those experienced by people who have caught coronavirus.
Although colds, flu and coronavirus are caused by different viruses, the similarity of symptoms between the three illnesses makes it hard to judge which you may have.
However, a recent study by the University of Southern Carolina shows that there are important factors that can help you work out what you’ve contracted.
They identified a distinct order of symptoms among people with coronavirus – a fever followed by a cough. Whereas the common cold is more likely to start with a sore throat and the flu will often begin with a cough and then follow with a fever – as told by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Nevertheless, caution is given as not everyone with coronavirus develops a fever. Also, some flu sufferers may not come down with a cough, which is why the length of time symptoms take to appear could be another clue.
To help you differentiate between the three illnesses Dr Sam Rodgers explains the symptoms of each illness to look out below.
If it’s just a cold …
Most common colds tend to stay in the upper airways, and you are most likely to have a blocked nose, sneezing and a sore throat. The mucus produced when you have a cold can lead to a cough. Otherwise, you will probably feel okay, just a little run down with aches and pains.
There are 200 different viruses known to cause colds, many of which belong to the rhinovirus family. In some cases, the culprit is a type of coronavirus, though thankfully not the same type that causes COVID-19. Most colds will go away by themselves in a week or so without treatment. You can take over the counter medicine to relieve symptoms.
If it’s the flu …
The flu, also known as influenza, can be more serious than just a cold and can cause complications such as pneumonia in vulnerable people.
Common symptoms of the flu consist of a dry cough, fever, fatigue, aches and pains and headaches. Caused by several different influenza viruses, it can affect both the upper and lower respiratory system and tends to last a week or two - though the fatigue may persist a bit longer.
Some people can experience a runny or blocked nose or a sore throat, however, there usually isn’t sneezing or shortness of breath with the flu and the NHS notes there is usually a rapid onset of symptoms.
Each year the NHS offers people at risk of complications a free flu vaccine. This year even more people will be eligible for the free flu vaccination. You can check if you fall into this category here. If you are eligible it is best to get the vaccination in the autumn before flu season starts.
If it’s coronavirus …
Coronavirus can be extremely serious in some people, while only causing mild or no symptoms in others.
The most common symptoms of coronavirus are a fever and a new persistent cough (usually dry). It isn’t essential to have a thermometer to work out whether you have a fever, if you feel more hot than normal on your chest or back then this can be a sign that you have one. Another common symptom of coronavirus is a loss or change in the sense of taste and/or smell (anosmia). The virus can also make people feel short of breath. Some people may also experience flu-like symptoms such as aches, pains and fatigue.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has created the following guide to help you differentiate between the three illnesses.
If you are not sure and are worried about your well-being or the health of someone you care for, you should seek medical assistance in the UK by dialing 111 or by following the Covid-19 advice on the NHS website.