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Cold, Flu Or COVID-19? Know The Difference

January 24, 2022 12:54 IST

Dr Karthiyayini Mahadevan tells you how to distinguish between a common cold and COVID-19 and act appropriately.

IMAGE: A swab sample for a COVID-19 test in Jammu, January 23, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo
Features Cold Flu COVID-19
Presenting Symptoms
Most common Running nose, sneezing Headache, running nose, fever Sore throat, fever, body ache, loss of smell, taste and diarrhoa
Less common Fever, sore throat Sore throat  
Contact tracing with COVID positive individual either as primary or secondary contact Not present Not present Sometimes present
Onset of symptoms with exposure to symptomatic individuals (Cold, sore throat, cough, fever) 1-3 days 1-4 days 2-14 days
Symptoms appearing 6 weeks post the second dose of vaccination against COVID Possible Possible Unlikely


Even though the symptoms may seem similar, the colonisation of the causative organism makes a difference.

In COVID-19 there is a strong colonisation in the nasopharynx, hence bringing in the symptom of loss of smell and taste, which may not be the case for common cold and flu.

Algorithm to consider for COVID care is:

Symptomatic treatment includes


As we see mutation in the SARS CoV2, the virulence of this omicron is less even though it is highly infectious. While you continue to stay masked up while stepping out, a booster dose may reduce your chances of getting infected.

Dr Karthiyayini Mahadevan is head, wellness and wellbeing at Columbia Pacific Communities.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/