Flu, Cold or COVID-19? Consider the Symptoms

woman with mask on

If you’re not feeling well and wondering if you have COVID-19, take a moment to consider your symptoms.

COVID-19, influenza (flu) and the common cold are all contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.

In general, flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are more intense. Colds are usually milder than flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Read more about the difference between cold and flu.

For the flu vs COVID-19, because some of the symptoms are similar, it might be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. A person infected with flu or COVID-19 might show no symptoms (asymptomatic) or varying degrees of the following symptoms:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people might have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

One of the symptoms unique to COVID-19 is a change in or the loss of taste or smell.

For the flu, a person typically develops symptoms anywhere from one to four days after infection. For COVID-19, a person typically develops symptoms five days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as two days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection, and the time range can vary.

See a full list of flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms.

What should you do if you're sick?

If you develop symptoms consistent with a respiratory illness, please stay home. If you get sick and need to seek care, we have you covered.

If you are sick with illnesses such as cold, pink eye or other non-COVID-19 ailment, our urgent care video visits are a great way to get care and avoid waiting rooms. You can access these visits by going to muhealthvideovisits.org.

If you think you might have COVID-19, you should be assessed by a doctor. Our COVID-19 testing requires a doctor’s order. Learn more about COVID-19 testing.

If your symptoms are severe, you should go to the Emergency Department.

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