How to differentiate between symptoms of flu and Covid-19

A runny nose is a symptom of both a common cold and flu.
A runny nose is a symptom of both a common cold and flu. / SUR
  • This autumn, coronavirus, flu and the common cold will all exist at the same time. They share some symptoms but there are also some variations which help to differentiate between them

Autumn is the start of the dreaded flu season, and that is particularly worrying this year because it will overlap with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of the risk of possible co-infection of both viruses, the Junta de Andalucía has brought forward the date for the start of flu vaccinations to 15 October, following recommendations from the Ministry of Health.

People who are considered vulnerable (the elderly, chronically ill, those with a number of health conditions and medical workers) will have the flu jab first, and this year teachers will also be included and will be among those who receive the first doses.

This fear of flu and the new coronavirus existing at the same time, and that of health centres becoming overwhelmed, has led the authorities to recommend that the population in general should have the flu jab, so they have ordered extra supplies to be distributed to health centres. However, this has led to a shortage of the vaccine at pharmacies, and they are now warning about the problems this could cause.

So much is abnormal in this 'new normal' and, given the confusion which could arise with the appearance of symptoms which also occur with Covid-19, flu and a simple common cold, we thought it would be is a good idea to look at the differences between these three conditions, to help us determine which is which.

Coronavirus symptoms

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the most normal symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, a dry cough and tiredness. Other, less common symptoms which affect some patients are aches and pains, nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhoea, loss of taste or smell, skin rashes or a change of colour in the fingers and toes.

In the most serious cases, Covid-19 patients have difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest and the inability to speak or move. The illness can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure and even death.

The WHO says that people of any age who have fever or a cough and find it difficult to breathe, have chest pain or difficulties in speaking or moving "should seek immediate medical attention".

It advises ringing the local health centre first, so they can organise for the patient to be taken to the most suitable medical centre or hospital. As to how long Covid-19 lasts, that is very variable.

Flu symptoms

Covid-19 and seasonal flu have various symptoms in common, such as fever, generally feeling unwell, a very runny nose with mucous in the throat or respiratory passages, and while some

people with Covid-19 might get a headache, with flu it is very usual. People with flu also have muscular pains, alternate between feeling hot and cold and can have a red face, vomiting and diarrhoea. The symptoms happen all at once, while in the new coronavirus they tend to be more gradual.

With regard to how long it lasts, flu needs at least a week of rest, although some symptoms such as the cough can last for a week or two longer.

Symptoms of a cold

The common cold is characterised by a runny nose or congestion, in other words a great deal of mucous, cough, sore throat, sneezing and in some cases generally feeling unwell and hoarseness. Fatigue, fever and diarrhoea are not symptoms of a cold. A cold normally lasts for about ten days.