Is it a cold, the flu or coronavirus? How to tell the difference

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Runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever: Symptoms are often similar when one starts to feel sick. That makes it difficult to tell if the illness is a virus or a bacterial infection.

At first glance, symptoms for the new coronavirus, otherwise known as 2019-nCoV, are similar to those we know as a common cold or flu.

Common coronavirus symptoms can include:

— Fever
— Dry cough
— Shortness of breath
— Aching muscles
— Fatigue

Less typical coronavirus symptoms:
— Phlegm buildup
— Headache
— Hemoptysis
— Diarrhea

Symptoms atypical for coronavirus:
— Runny nose
— Sore throat

A runny nose and a sore throat are typical signs of upper respiratory infection. Therefore, those who have bouts of sneezing or get the sniffles likely have the flu or a common cold.

As the new coronavirus generally affects the lower respiratory tract, most of those infected exhibit a dry cough, shortness of breath or pneumonia, but not a sore throat.

Runny nose and sore throat – you’re golden!



People with 2019-nCoV infection, the flu, or a cold typically develop respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough and runny nose. Even though many symptoms are alike, they are caused by different viruses. Because of their similarities, it can be difficult to identify the disease based on symptoms alone. That’s why laboratory tests are required to confirm if someone has 2019-nCoV.

As always, WHO recommends that people who have cough, fever and difficulty breathing should seek medical care early. Patients should inform health care providers if they have travelled in the 14 days before they developed symptoms, or if they have been in close contact with someone with who has been sick with respiratory symptoms.


h/t AO


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