Cold, flu, or COVID-19: Which is it

Chart Comparison for Cold, flu, and COVID-19

When your nose is stuffed up and you’re not feeling right, a number of respiratory viruses could be to blame.

Cold, flu, and COVID-19 viruses have similar symptoms but there are important differences between them. A test done by your doctor is the only way to know for sure which one you’ve come down with, but here’s a look at how they compare:

Cold

Flu

COVID-19

What are the symptoms?

  • ✔ Runny or stuffy nose
  • ✔ Cough
  • ✔ Sore throat
  • ✔ Sneezing

May also bring:

  • Body aches/headache
  • New loss of taste or smell (with a stuffy nose)
  • ✔ Runny or stuffy nose
  • ✔ Cough
  • ✔ Sore throat
  • ✔ Body aches/headache
  • ✔ Tiredness
  • ✔ Fever
  • ✔ Chills

May also bring:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • New loss of taste or smell (rare)
  • ✔ Runny or stuffy nose
  • ✔ Cough
  • ✔ Sore throat
  • ✔ Body aches/headache
  • ✔ Tiredness
  • ✔ Fever
  • ✔ Chills
  • ✔ New loss of taste or smell

May also bring:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

People start showing symptoms ...

about 1 to 3 days after being infected.

about 1 to 4 days after being infected.

about 5 days after being infected, but symptoms could appear between 2 and 14 days after infection.

People spread the virus ...

for about 1-2 days before showing symptoms and while showing symptoms.

for about 1 day before showing symptoms; they’re most contagious between the first 3-4 days of illness.

for about 2 days before showing symptoms and about 10 days after testing positive.

Are there complications?

Serious complications are rare. Some people may develop serious illnesses, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

Most people recover on their own in a few days or weeks, but complications can include pneumonia, respiratory failure, and other severe conditions.

Severity varies; some people become severely ill. Severe complications can include pneumonia, respiratory failure, and blood clots. In some people, symptoms last weeks or months after infection.

Vaccine available?

No

Yes

Yes