So you’re feeling under-the-weather and you’re not sure if it’s a common cold, flu (influenza) or Covid-19 (coronavirus)? Well, it’s not always easy to tell because these are quite-similar illnesses in many cases, especially in the early stages and in milder cases (most cases are mild, for all three conditions). But there are some differences that may help you tell one from the other. But before we get into this, please understand that this article does not and can not replace medical care: please ask your doctor or clinic if you have any doubts and never delay seeking medical advice because of this article.

  • The common cold is usually a mild illness limited to runny nose, sneezing, a mild sore throat and perhaps some limited coughing. It rarely requires more than some rest, simple meds like paracetamol, and time.
  • Flu (influenza) is a bit more serious and often involves body aches, fever, fatigue, and more. It often puts you in bed for several days, and can require hospital care in some cases (some 1-2% require hospital care).
  • Covid-19 (the disease caused by coronavirus) is characterised by quite-severe dry cough in most cases as well as fever and fatigue. It can involve a loss of taste and smell in some people. It can cause shortness of breath and this is one of the signs of more-severe disease. Some 10-15% of patients require hospital care.

NONE of these illnesses responds to known antibiotics and treatment is essentially “supportive” while the illness runs its course. In the case of Flu and Covid-19, “supportive” care can be quite significant, even involving ICU-level care and ventilation (ICU is needed in less than 1% of Flu cases and some 5% of Covid-19 cases).

The table below summarises the main symptoms and how they usually differ in each condition but please note that these are generalisations that may not apply, or fully apply, to every person and every patient and every situation.

It’s important to remember that most patients who contract any of these illnesses, make a full recovery. But severe and even life-threatening illness can and does occur in the case of Flu (~1% of cases are severe) and Covid-19 (10-15% of cases are severe). Contact your doctor or clinic or hospital if you feel you may have severe illness such that you cannot really cope at home.