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FAQ

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

Page last updated 09 April 2020

Influenza are a group of viruses that are responsible for the disease we commonly call the ‘flu’.

 

It is a disease that is spread from person to person during coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with respiratory secretions (e.g. saliva, nasal discharge). It can cause a wide range of disease, from mild to more severe disease that affects many body systems and can result in hospitalisation, other infections (e.g. pneumonia) and even death.

 

The common cold is also caused by a virus, and also affects the airways, but generally tends to be milder than the flu. Colds do not usually cause serious complications or require hospitalisation.

 

COVID-19 comes from a large family of viruses called coronaviruses. It is transmitted in the same way as the flu, with similar symptoms, but severe disease appears to be higher for COVID-19.

 

So is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Often testing is required to know for sure, but here are some general ways you can distinguish some of the symptoms:

 

Sign/symptom

Influenza

Cold

COVID-19

Symptom onset

Abrupt

Gradual

Range from mild to severe

Fever

Usual

Rare

Usual

Aches

Usual

Slight

Sometimes

Chills

Fairly common

Uncommon

Sometimes

Fatigue/weakness

Usual

Sometimes

Sometimes

Sneezing

Sometimes

Common

No

Stuffy nose

Sometimes

Common

Sometimes

Sore throat

Sometimes

Common

Sometimes

Chest discomfort, cough

Common

Mild to moderate

Usual

Headache

Common

Rare

Sometimes

Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) and Australian Government, Department of Health.

Sources & Citations

  1. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook - Influenza. Available at: immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au/vaccine-preventable-diseases/influenza-flu (accessed 11 March 2020).
  1. Centers for Disease Control. Cold versus flu. Available at: www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm (accessed 11 March 2020).
  2. NSW Government. Health. COVID-19 - Frequently asked questions. Available at: https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/alerts/Pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx (accessed 30 March 2020).

SPANZ.IFLU.18.04.0165(3)a Date of preparation- March 2020