The Similarities and Differences Between a Cold, the Flu and COVID-19

As the cases of coronavirus increase across the country, many families are asking, ‘how do I know if I have it or not?” Many of the symptoms (fever, chills, body aches and cough) are similar to that of the cold or flu. However, there are differences and that is what’s key to pay attention to as you monitor your family’s health. Let’s break down each one:

The Common Cold

A cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory system that can be caused by more than 200 different viruses. Colds are contagious and can be passed to others with an incubation period of 1-7 days. It typically lasts 7-10 days depending on the strain. The most common symptoms of a cold are a runny and/or stuffy nose without a fever. Treatments include rest, fluids, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and over-the-counter medications.

Influenza or The Flu

The flu is also a viral infection of the upper respiratory system, but it can also infect the lower respiratory system. It is highly contagious with an incubation period of about 1-4 days and can last 5-14 days depending on its severity. Common symptoms of influenza are mild to high ever, headaches, cough, fatigue, body aches or pain. The flu can become severe causing pneumonia which could be fatal to some people. Treatment of the flu includes rest, fluids, acetaminophen and if caught early, an antiviral drug like Tamiflu.

Coronavirus or COVID-19

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a relatively new type or strand of coronavirus that effects the upper respiratory system, and in some cases the lower respiratory system. It is extremely contagious spreading from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing. The incubation period is about 14 days, however there may be zero symptoms for the majority of the incubation period. Symptoms include cough, high fever and shortness of breath. The shortness of breath is the symptom that stands out from the cold and the flu. People with weakened immune systems can develop severe respiratory problems or kidney failure that may lead to death. A lab test is needed to confirm COVID-19. Current treatment of COVID-19 include rest, fluids, acetaminophen and respiratory support if symptoms become severe.  As of March 23, an antiviral drug to treat COVID-19 is not confirmed, but there are 4 treatments in the testing phase.

Our highest priority is the safety of you and all of our patients. If you are concerned that you may have coronavirus, please call us before coming into a Children’s Medical Center location.

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