The Difference Between a Common Cold, Flu, and Coronaviruses

Bahar Mahmoudi
International Pharmacy Graduate and Natural Health Practitioner

Common cold, Flu, and Coronaviruses are all respiratory illnesses; however, they are caused by different viruses. Because these three types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference based on the symptoms alone. In general, flu is worse than the common cold, and the symptoms are more intense.


On the other hand, a coronavirus is a common virus that causes an infection in your nose, sinuses, or upper throat. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous.


In early 2020, following a December 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization identified a new type of coronavirus called 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).


Click Here for Coronavirus Infographic


All three diseases can spread through the coughing and sneezing of an infected person, by touching an infected person’s hands or face, or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched.


How To Spot the Difference?

Common Cold Symptoms:

  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • headache or body aches
  • mild tiredness


Flu Symptoms:

  • dry, hacking cough
  • moderate to high fever (although not everyone with the flu will run a fever)
  • sore throat
  • shaking chills
  • severe muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • stuffy and runny nose
  • severe fatigue that may last up to two weeks
  • nausea and vomiting, as well as diarrhea (most common in children)


Coronaviruses Symptoms:

  • runny nose
  • coughing
  • sore throat
  • fever


Click Here for Coronavirus Infographic


To find out whether your cold was caused by a coronavirus, you could get lab tests done, which can include nose and throat cultures and blood work. The test results do not change how you will treat your symptoms, which typically go away in a few days.


But if a coronavirus infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract (your windpipe and your lungs), it can cause pneumonia, especially in children, older people, people with heart disease, or people with weakened immune systems.


How to Avoid a Common Cold, Flu, or Coronavirus?

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Keep your hands and fingers away from your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with people who are infected


How to Treat a Common Cold, Flu, or Coronavirus?

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids
  • A humidifier or steamy shower can also help ease a sore and scratchy throat