What is the difference between a cold, the flu, and COVID-19?

Telling the difference between the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19 can be quite difficult because their symptoms are similar.

Knowing the difference between a cold, the flu, and COVID-19*

Identify the differences in symptoms based on condition
Symptoms Cold Flu COVID-19
Sneezing X    
Sore throat X X X
Runny or stuffy nose X X X
Cough X X X
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing   X X
Fatigue (tiredness)   X X
Fever or feeling feverish/chills   X X
Muscle pain or body aches   X X
Headache   X X
Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)   X X
Change in or loss of taste and smell     X

If you are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, use our MyChart self-checker to determine your next steps.

Still unsure? Have questions? Contact your health care provider today.

COVID-19 also has additional elements to consider:

  • COVID-19 is also more contagious and can spread much faster than influenza.
  • People with COVID-19 may also experience a more severe lung infection.
  • People with COVID-19 are at greater risk of dying either during or after infection.
  • In children, COVID-19 can cause a rare, but serious multi-system inflammatory syndrome.
Last reviewed: 
June 2021
Alternative Names: 
2019 novel coronavirus

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