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Differences Between the Common Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

As the year progresses and we get close to colder months, the threat of respiratory illnesses starts to rise. A stuffy nose, pounding headache and scratchy throat – the symptoms of a cold and the flu can sometimes overlap. To complicate the matter, COVID-19 has several similar symptoms to these illnesses.

Understanding the difference between the common cold, flu, and COVID-19 will allow you to better determine the level of care needed.

Here are some helpful guidelines to help tell the difference between the common cold, flu, and COVID-19:

Spotting The Differences Between the Common Cold Vs. The Flu Vs. COVID-19

The common cold, the flu, and COVID-19 are all respiratory illnesses that can cause similar symptoms, but there are differences to note. For example, individuals with COVID-19 may start having symptoms 2 to 14 days after infection, compared to the flu where most people typically have symptoms 1 to 4 days after. In addition, each is caused by a different virus:

  • Common cold: Most are caused by rhinoviruses
  • Flu: Caused by influenza viruses
  • COVID-19: Caused by SARS-CoV-2

Here is a breakdown of the most common symptoms for each below:

What are the Symptoms of the Common Cold?

Cold symptoms are usually much milder than the flu, and they often get better within seven to ten days. In rare instances, cold symptoms may last for up to two weeks. Common symptoms of a cold include the following:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Runny nose
  • Slight cough or chest discomfort
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose

Most colds are caused by rhinoviruses. These viruses enter your body through your mouth, nose or eyes, and can even be spread when a sick person near you sneezes, coughs or speaks. Typically, drinking plenty of fluids can alleviate most symptoms.

What is the Difference Between a Cold and COVID-19?

The common cold is generally mild compared to the coronavirus and doesn't result in serious health problems that may require hospitalization. In comparison, COVID-19 does have a higher likelihood of causing complications that could include pneumonia.

What are the Symptoms of the Flu?

Flu symptoms are more severe than the cold. Symptoms can come on suddenly and last up to two weeks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu can have very serious and even life-threatening complications, including pneumonia and multi-organ failure.

Some of the most common symptoms associated with the flu include the following:

  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Headache
  • Moderate to high fever
  • Runny nose
  • Severe body or muscle aches
  • Severe fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose
  • Vomiting

Anyone can get the flu and serious complications can happen at any age, but there are certain people that are more at risk of developing life-threatening complications, according to the CDC. These include children, pregnant women, any person with certain chronic medical conditions and adults over the age of 65.

What is the Difference Between COVID-19 and the Flu?

While both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory illnesses, there are notable differences between the two.. COVID-19 spreads quicker compared to the flu, and those infected are contagious for longer, even before they show symptoms. The likelihood for serious illness is greater for those with COVID-19, especially if the person is unvaccinated.

Here are some additional differences between COVID-19 and the flu:

  • Symptoms typically show up later with COVID-19. Symptoms for COVID-19 show up around 5 days after infection but can appear within 2 to 14 days. For the flu, symptoms appear 1 to 4 days after infection.
  • COVID-19 is more contagious. Those with the flu can typically be contagious 1 day before showing symptoms and remain contagious 3-7 days after falling ill. Those with COVID-19 can spread the virus 2 days before showing symptoms and can be contagious for 10 or more days after testing positive.
  • COVID-19 causes more severe illness and complications. Hospitalization or death may occur for certain individuals with COVID-19. Post-COVID conditions may also persist for weeks or months. Some people may also develop blood clots and children are at risk of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 symptoms generally appear 2-14 days after being exposed to the virus. Symptoms also vary by individual, with some people reporting no symptoms (asymptomatic) while others may report mild or severe symptoms. The spread of COVID-19 is a concern due to the variety of variants that facilitate the spread of infection, such as the Delta variant.

These COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

Some more severe signs that emergency medical attention is needed include:

  • Inability to stay awake
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin or lips
  • Trouble breathing

Since some of the symptoms above are similar for all, testing will be needed to ensure that an accurate diagnosis is given.

How To Help Prevent the Spread Of The Cold, Flu, and COVID-19

Taking adequate steps to protect your customers and employees is important for businesses and commercial properties. One individual who may be exposed to the common cold, flu, or COVID-19 could inadvertently lead to an outbreak within a facility, leading to a potential shutdown as the property is disinfected. Preventive services, especially cleaning and disinfection for COVID-19, can be an important factor to help reduce the likelihood of an outbreak in your property.

ServiceMaster Clean is a commercial cleaning company that offers professional cleaning and disinfection services. throughout the US. With our SaniMaster service, we offer hospital-grade disinfection services to combat dangerous pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Reach out to your nearest ServiceMaster Clean location and get started today!

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