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COVID-19 vs. Cold and Flu: What Do Your Symptoms Mean?

As temperatures drop across the country, the fall wave of illness is beginning. Even though there is now a COVID-19 vaccine, that virus remains a threat, along with cold and flu.

COVID-19 and the flu are two different conditions with different causes. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus while flu is caused by the influenza virus.

With more than a year of research about COVID-19, we know that many of its symptoms overlap with cold and flu. That can make it difficult to know whether you might need to be tested for COVID-19 or flu. The infographic below can be a helpful first step:


COVID-19 vs. Flu

Many COVID-19 infections can appear to be similar to flu. Fever, headaches, fatigue and chills are fairly common with both viruses, according to research from Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins University.

A few symptoms separate COVID-19 from flu. Shortness of breath and the loss of taste or smell have been widely reported by COVID-19 patients but are rare in people who have the flu.

People who have COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to a known case can be tested two different ways, both of which are offered at our clinics (while supplies last). Rapid antigen tests have results available in less than an hour. PCR tests can have results available in about two days.

Flu patients might also begin showing symptoms more quickly than COVID-19 patients. Flu symptoms can show up just a few days after exposure while COVID-19 symptoms might take up to two weeks.

COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. COVID-19 does not spread as commonly through contact with contaminated surfaces. But it generally spreads between people who are in close contact with each other (within six feet). And people can spread the virus to others even they personally do not show any symptoms.


There are vaccines for both flu and COVID-19 prevention. COVID-19 vaccines are now available at select CareSpot and MedPost locations, while supplies last. Flu vaccines are now available at all of our locations through the end of April.

Colds vs. Flu and COVID-19

If you’re feeling under the weather, it is possible that you don’t have the flu or COVID-19; it might just be an ordinary cold.

People with colds rarely have the fever, digestive problems, headaches or loss of appetite seen in flu or COVID-19 patients. It is also rare for cold sufferers to have shortness of breath or a loss of taste or smell.

Colds do usually bring sneezing, which is less common in flu cases and somewhat rare in COVID-19 infections. Colds also progress gradually, in contrast to the sudden onset of flu symptoms.

What if I feel sick?

If you’re feeling sick, an urgent care center near you are here to help with flu tests, COVID-19 evaluations, and many other urgent care services.

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