Here's how to know if you have the coronavirus, flu or just a cold

Nigerian Airports officials screening visitors coming into the country for Coronavirus. [Twitter/@MansurIB007]
  • Scientists have found that the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, shares similarities with the common cold or influenza (flu).
  • This is because the virus is a flu-like illness. However, there are some differences in symptoms that let you know exactly which one you are dealing with.

Since the coronavirus (COVID-19) started in Wuhan, China, it has infected over 100,000 people across the world.

In Africa, there are more than 100 confirmed cases with the latest being in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Right now, it is showing no signs of slowing down which is why it is important to know the differences between the virus, the flu or a cold.

Here is how to know if you have been infected by the virus or dealing with just a cold or flu:

While these three share certain symptoms, the main differences lie in intensity and how they appear.

Let's start with the COVID-19, which has spread to over 100 countries. The symptoms often appear more slowly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable difficulty breathing.

Some people can even develop pneumonia, kidney failure and in the most serious cases, death. It worsens rapidly in the elderly or anyone with medical problems like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

Your chances of having the virus increases if you start showing all three symptoms - fever, cough and noticeable shortness of breath - after a recent visit to an affected country.

For the cold, LeRoy, a family medicine doctor and associate dean at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio says, "The common cold just starts out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny nose, stuffy nose" and any fever is usually mild.

The common cold is caused by a strain of a virus that is different from the Covid-19.

One of the main differences between the common cold and the coronavirus is that cold symptoms usually peak within the first two to three days of infection, while the effects of Covid-19 appear two to 14 days after exposure.

Flu symptoms, on the other hand, are more intense as they can include a runny or stuffy nose, headaches, vomiting or diarrhoea, a high fever (over 100.5 degrees), extreme exhaustion, muscle or body aches, a dry cough and chills.

The flu is caused by different influenza viruses that can be easily spread from human to human. It is likely to be passed with the first five days of infection.

Unlike the cold, the flu usually comes on suddenly which is why "It really hits you like a bus." You probably have the flu if start the day well but start feeling terrible by afternoon.

Speaking with CNN, Dr Greg Poland, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic and director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, shared major differences between all three.

"The flu and the novel coronavirus, these affect other systems and the lower respiratory tract. You probably won't have a runny nose, but what you might have is a sore throat, a cough, a fever or shortness of breath. So it's a subtly different clinical diagnosis,” he said.

Poland added, "If you have an acute case of coronavirus or flu, you will feel so tired, so achy, you'd basically be driven to bed. Everybody would see the difference. What would increase the suspicion of coronavirus would be if you were short of breath. People can also develop pneumonia from the flu, which has a similar presentation, so either way you're going to want to seek medical attention."

So far, the coronavirus has killed over 4,300 people while the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 annually across the world, according to the WHO.

Right now, the best way to protect yourself from all three is to wash your hands regularly, keep them away from your face, and avoid standing close to people.


Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: