How coronavirus symptoms compare to those of flu, allergies, and the common cold

How coronavirus symptoms compare to those of flu, allergies, and the common cold

People wearing protective face masks walk on a street, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, in London, Britain March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

  • The flu, common cold, allergies, and COVID-19 - the disease associated with the new coronavirus - have similar symptoms.
  • Overlapping symptoms include sore throat, fatigue, and a dry cough. That can make it challenging for doctors to diagnose COVID-19.
  • Typically, people with COVID-19 don't typically have runny noses and sneezing.
  • One chart shows how COVID-19 symptoms compare to those of flu, allergies, and the common cold.
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The symptoms of COVID-19 - the disease caused by the new coronavirus - overlap with those associated with commons colds, allergies, and the flu. That can make it tricky to diagnose without a test.

Even President Donald Trump to ask pharmaceutical executives earlier in the outbreak if the flu vaccine could be used to stop the coronavirus. (The answer is no, but it's still good to get a flu shot to lower the chances that you get the flu and take up crucial healthcare resources.)

The coronavirus primarily affects patients' lungs. It commonly causes a fever, dry coughing, and shortness of breath. Here are all the symptoms associated with COVID-19 and how they compare to symptoms of common colds, allergies, and the flu.

covid 19 compared to other common conditions table


If your nose is running, you probably don't have COVID-19

COVID-19 can be most easily distinguished from from colds, allergies, and the flu based on a trifecta of symptoms: fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. That last symptom is not associated with colds or flu, though it is with allergies.

If you're sneezing and have a runny nose, it's unlikely that you have COVID-19. The flu is also more likely to come with aches and pains than COVID-19.

Man coughing_By Jojo Photos:Shutterstock

Diarrhea is a rare symptom of the coronavirus, but gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea could be early clues of infection, according to a growing body of preliminary research. It also is a symptom mostly unique to COVID-19, with the exception of some children with flu.

Still, the overlaps between COVID-19 and other common conditions are in part why widespread testing is necessary. Some countries, like China and South Korea, have tested hundreds of thousands of people. But according to the COVID Tracking Project - a test-tracking resource from two journalists at the Atlantic and the founder of a medical data startup - only about 8,000 tests have been run in the US. They note, however, that those figures may be incomplete due to different state policies on reporting negative tests.


Read More:

The new coronavirus lives on surfaces for 3 hours to 3 days, new research says. Here's how to disinfect them properly.

The coronavirus' average incubation period is 5 days, a study shows - but in 1% of cases, it may last longer than the standard 2-week quarantine

What to know about the coronavirus outbreak in 9 charts and maps

One chart shows 11 countries' current coronavirus death rates, based on the known number of cases and deaths


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