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COVID-19, flu or cold: main differences

COVID-19, flu and cold are viral infections that affect the respiratory system and can present very similar symptoms such as fever, sore throat, stuffy nose or tiredness, for example, which makes them often confused.

However, there are some differences between these infections, from the onset of the first symptoms, their intensity and duration. Therefore, knowing the main differences between COVID-19, flu and cold can be a good way to know when it is necessary to go to the hospital or have a more differentiated treatment.

In any case, it is always advisable to go to the doctor to confirm the diagnosis and start the most appropriate treatment, which can often include the use of drugs that should only be used with medical advice.

How to differentiate COVID-19, flu and cold

Despite having similar symptoms and being diseases of the respiratory tract, COVID-19, the flu and the cold present some differences that should be taken into account for a better identification of the situation:

COVID-19

The flu

Cold

Causes

SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus

Influenza Virus

Rhinoviruses and the like

Onset of symptoms after exposure to the virus

Usually within 5 days, but it can occur in 2 to 14 days.

1 to 4 days

1 to 3 days

Intensity of symptoms

mild to severe

start suddenly

start gradually

Duration of symptoms

It varies for each person, and may be for long periods

7 to 10 days

2 to 4 days

Tiredness

Common

Common

Sometimes

Fever

Common, above 38ยบ C

common, high fever

low fever or no fever

Cough

Common, usually dry and persistent

common, usually dry

Moderate

Loss of smell and/or taste

Common and starts suddenly and often without a blocked or runny nose

Rare

Sometimes usually associated with a stuffy or runny nose

Headache

less common

Common

Rare

Body ache

Sometimes

Common

Common

stuffy or running nose

Rare

Sometimes

Common

Sore throat

Sometimes

Sometimes

Common

sneezing

Absent

Absent

Common

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Common

Absent

Absent

Diarrhea

Sometimes, especially in children

Sometimes, especially in children

Absent

Nausea and vomiting

Sometimes, especially in children

Sometimes, especially in children

Absent

In the presence of these symptoms, a general practitioner should be consulted for a detailed evaluation and to identify the correct diagnosis. If the physician suspects COVID-19, the diagnosis needs to be confirmed through the RT-PCR test that detects the presence of coronavirus, or not, in the airways. Check out all the tests indicated for COVID-19.

In addition, regardless of the cause, hygiene measures should always be adopted to prevent the transmission of viruses, such as using a mask, washing hands and applying alcohol gel frequently, for example, in addition to avoiding contact with other people.

How is the treatment done

Treatment may vary depending on the type of infection. In cases of flu and cold, treatment can be done at home with rest and hydration, but in cases of COVID-19 it is necessary to go to the doctor, as the initial symptoms can worsen in a short time, requiring medical advice.

In addition, whenever you need to use medication to alleviate any symptoms, you should also go to the doctor.

In more severe cases of COVID-19, hospitalization and the use of more specific medications, indicated by the physician, may be necessary, such as remdesivir or baricitinib, for example. See all approved drugs for COVID-19.

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