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Spotting the Difference Between COVID, the Flu, and a Common Cold


As parents of international students, the health and well-being of your children are among your top priorities. One main concern during winter months is the increase in illness. COVID-19, the flu, and the common cold are currently prevalent in the U.S. Knowing the symptoms of each can help you better identify when your child should simply rest and stay home from school, or should seek medical attention.

Symptoms of All Three Illnesses 

Before we dive into the differences between these conditions, let’s first look at some of the typical symptoms they share. These include: 

• Fever 

• Cough 

• Sore throat 

• Runny nose or congestion 

• Fatigue or tiredness  

However, even though these illnesses have the same symptoms doesn’t mean they should be treated similarly. Distinguish between them so that proper treatment is administered and infections don’t spread. 

The Difference Between COVID-19 and the Flu 

Although COVID-19 and the flu both cause fever and cough, there are other key differences in presenting symptoms. For example, COVID-19 is more likely to cause body aches than the flu. Someone with COVID-19 may experience diarrhea more often than someone with the flu does. While both illnesses can lead to serious complications if left untreated—especially for those who are immunocompromised—COVID-19 is far more dangerous.

The Differences Between the Flu and a Common Cold 

The common cold and the flu share many symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by influenza A and influenza B, while the common cold can be caused by over 200 different types of viruses. Colds are more common, result in a milder illness, and typically resolve without treatment. The flu is a more severe illness and can be treated with antiviral medications and over-the-counter medications for symptom relief. 

The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. 

Knowing the differences between COVID-19, the flu, and a common cold helps you determine what steps your child can take to mitigate the spread and what type of care they should seek. Be sure to also consult the school’s policies regarding illness as you communicate with your child.