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Cold, flu or COVID-19? Compare the symptoms.

Compare the symptoms of COVID-19 to flu and allergies.

Girl with a cold wiping her nose with a tissue Photo: Getty Images

Updated January 5, 2022

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that, until December 2019, had never before been seen in humans. The virus spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Some people who are infected may not have symptoms. For people who have symptoms, illness can range from mild to severe. Adults 65 years and older and people of any age with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness. People ages 5 years and older should get vaccinated to prevent getting and spreading the illness. Everyone ages 16 and older can get a booster shot.

The sections below describe the symptoms and incubation period of COVID-19, flu and allergies. Incubation period refers to the number of days between when you're infected and when you may experience symptoms. As with any illness, exact symptoms can vary from person to person. View our infographic, which compares symptoms of COVID-19, the flu and allergies.

Please note: You cannot tell on your own whether you have COVID-19 by comparing symptoms. Get a COVID-19 test and consult your doctor.  

COVID-19 (Incubation period: 2-14 days)

COVID-19 causes symptoms much like the common cold or flu. COVID-19 symptoms are more severe than those of the common cold and may last longer. 

Common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Check for COVID-19 symptoms

Flu (Incubation period: 1-4 days)

Common symptoms:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite

Sometimes:

  • Runny or stuffy nose

Allergies (Incubation period: n/a)

Common symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy/watery eyes

Allergy symptoms typically affect only parts of the head and are not accompanied by fever.

Practice prevention

With COVID-19 you can share germs before you start to experience symptoms. That's why infection prevention measures such as masking, social distancing, handwashing and cough/sneeze etiquette are so important.

Should you get tested?

If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 or you learn you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it’s important that you get tested.

Call our general information hotline

For general questions about COVID-19, call our hotline at (804) 628-7425. Please continue to check our COVID-19 website for updates and new content pertaining to COVID-19.

This story was first published April 28, 2020, under the headline, "What is COVID-19?" This story is current as of the update date. 

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