How do I know if I have a cold, the flu or coronavirus?

Now that all the schools have gone back and children are mixing again, coughs and sniffles have returned, but is it possible to tell whether it is a cold or coronavirus?

Public health announcements constantly remind the general public that self-isolation and a COVID-19 test is required should someone develop a persistent cough, a high temperature and a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste.

But coughs can also be a symptom of the common cold. With COVID-19 tests reportedly becoming hard to book, it might be useful for diligent parents to be able to spot the difference between a coronavirus symptom and a sniffle that all children are certain to eventually develop over the winter months.

High temperature: a sign of illness

A high temperature is 37.8C or above and occurs because the body is trying to fight off any sort of infection.

Use of a thermometer is highly recommended so an accurate recording can be made. Although a high temperature is one of the coronavirus symptoms, it could also indicate the person has flu or a different infection.

What’s the difference between the flu, a cold, and coronavirus?

People who become sick with the flu usually start to feel unwell quite suddenly. They may also experience muscle aches, chills, headaches, tiredness, a sore throat and a runny or stuffed nose, along with a cough. It feels worse than a heavy cold.

Colds are a bit more of a slow burner and tend to develop more gradually. Although people can generally feel poorly with a cold, the symptoms are less severe. A cough may also develop, along with sneezing, sore throat and runny nose. Fever, chills and muscle aches.

However, a coronavirus cough means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing fits or “episodes” in 24 hours. For people who have a long-standing health condition, such as COPD, the coughing may be significantly worse.

Sneezing is not a symptom of coronavirus, nor is a runny nose.

Most people who feel ill with coronavirus will have at least one of the key symptoms:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste

If you develop those symptoms contact the online NHS coronavirus service here.

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