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By Dr. Peter Barkett
Kaiser Permanente Washington 

Understand the differences between the common cold, flu and COVID-19


Last updated 10/6/2020 at 12:52pm

Photo courtesy of Kaiser Permanente Washington

Dr. Peter Barkett

Understanding the differences between the common cold, the flu and COVID-19 can be challenging, as they share many symptoms that can be confusing to many people who may wonder what steps they should take to protect their health.

Dr. Peter Barkett of Kaiser Permanente Washington notes that although these three diseases share common symptoms, they have distinctive differences the public should become familiar with, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. When in doubt whether you have a cold, the flu or COVID-19, Dr. Barkett advises that you contact your health care provider to see if medical attention is necessary.

Dr. Barkett noted that while you may feel miserable when you have a cold, the symptoms are generally milder compared to more aggressive viruses like the flu and COVID-19. A cold is typically less severe, and can cause any or all of the following symptoms:

• Runny or stuffy nose.

• A mild cough.

• Fatigue.

• Sneezing.

• Sore throat.

• Aches and pains.

Unlike the common cold, the flu generally comes on fast and furious. Here are some of the flu's common symptoms:

• Fever and/or chills.

• Dry cough.

• Fatigue.

• Aches and pains.

• Runny and stuffy nose.

• Sore throat.

When it comes to COVID-19, it shares some symptoms with the common cold and flu, but also has other distinctive symptoms. COVID-19 symptoms include:

• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

• Loss of taste and smell.

• Diarrhea.

• Fever and/or chills.

• Dry cough.

• Tiredness.

• Aches and pains.

• Headaches.

• Sore throat.

"This year it's more important than ever to get your flu shot," Dr. Barkett said. "The flu shot is safe and provides good protection against influenza. An influenza infection is miserable and dangerous on its own. However, it also makes us more vulnerable to other medical problems including pneumonia, heart disease and likely COVID-19. Getting the flu shot is the most important step to protect yourself and vulnerable people in your community."

Dr. Barkett added that a high-dose flu shot is necessary only for senior patients 65 years and older, while the regular-dose flu shot will be sufficient to cover all other populations.


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