What Are The Symptoms That Differentiate Coronavirus (COVID-19) From Cold & Flu?


Gone are the days that simple sneezing would get you a “bless you” in return and nothing other than that. Now any attempts at sneezing or coughing would give you a heart attack as you would start wondering and panicking on if or if not you’ve contracted the latest and fast-spreading virus scouring the world. To reduce the rate of panic which is on its own having adverse effects on the population in general, PEOPLE had some experts come to the world’s aid to help distinguish if what you have is just a cold, the flu or the almighty Coronavirus.

Round 1: COVID-19 vs a cold
Dr. William Haseltine, infectious disease expert and Chair and President of ACCESS Health International who spoke with PEOPLE concerning the issue explains that COVID-19 begins like a simple cold with coughing and sneezing. For cold and COVID-19 at the initial stage, the symptoms affect the upper respiratory but once the symptoms begin to migrate to the lower respiratory that’s when you know it’s COVID-19 that you are dealing with. 

He says, “If it feels like it’s in your chest, and then deeper in your chest, that’s when it’s quite serious. That’s when your body starts reacting to it. Your body overreacts to it and creates the damage in your lungs, and that’s when it’s the most serious. The moment it moves from a light cold to a chest cold, you’ve got to go see a doctor, immediately.”

According to him, about 80% experience mild symptoms which are just like those symptoms experienced with a cold, “But about 15 per cent of people will get a serious chest infection, and some of those are quite critically ill, and some people die from that.”

To reduce more instances of panicking and even exposure and contraction of the virus, the Dr advises that such individuals with the symptoms should contact their doctors or hospitals first rather than heading straight to get tested and treated but in serious cases, the Dr advises such individuals to call an ambulance. 

Round 2: COVID-19 vs the flu
The world is still very much in the flu season which is like a yearly thing. Along the line, COVID-19 progresses from cold symptoms and starts to look like the flu. The symptoms now move from coughing and sneezing to running a fever and experiencing fatigue and body aches just like the flu. 

The only way out to tell which is which between the flu and COVID-19 is by taking the test. Many health care facilities presently test people with flu tests first as these are readily and easily available unlike those for COVID-19. Dr Robert Norton, professor of public health at Auburn University says, “When you go to the doctor, the first thing they’re likely to do is to give you a flu test to determine whether or not you’ve got the flu. And if you’ve got the flu, then it’s not this.”

When do symptoms begin to manifest? 
Symptoms begin to manifest between 2-14 days after the individual has contracted the virus. 

Is it possible for people to have it without showing symptoms?
Dr. Haseltine says, absolutely. This is so because there are people who are carriers for the virus and have it without developing symptoms and there are also the asymptomatic people who can also spread the virus. 

Who is most at risk?
Dr. Haseltine says that anyone and everyone is at risk as no one is known to be immune to it yet, but there are people who are at greater risk as he says, “People who are elderly are at risk because everyone who is older has a weaker immune system. Anybody who has an underlying lung condition — serious asthma, a heavy smoker. Anybody who is immunosuppressed, because they’re undergoing cancer treatment, organ transplantation or treatment with some of the newer drugs for arthritis. Any of those people are at higher risk.”

He also warns that because the elderly are at higher risks it doesn’t mean the younger ones are safe as he adds, “But it can kill younger people if they get a severe lung infection. Younger people should not think they’re immune.”

What can be done to slow the spread?
Dr. Haseltine says, “Stay home, and be as hygienic as possible.” While Dr Norton adds, “People need to continue to be vigilant, assiduously practise good hand washing hygiene, cover nose and mouth if sneeze or cough, self-isolate if they are showing mild symptoms and seek medical attention with their local health care provider, if they have signs of respiratory infections.”