How to Know if You Have a Cold, the Flu, or COVID-19

Typically around this time of year, you wouldn’t be surprised to develop a runny nose, cough, or even a fever. You’d likely assume you just have a cold. You might grab some over-the-counter medication, hydrate, get a good night’s sleep, and try not to dwell on feeling less than 100%.

In a normal year, this would make sense. But in 2020, cold and flu season coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes knowing what illness you’re dealing with more complicated.

Indeed, related search queries have trended well above the typical annual pace throughout the year. This summer, Google searches on influenza topics came in at three to four times the average rate (compared to the last five years). How are you supposed to know if that tickle in your throat is related to a cold, the flu, or COVID-19?

We’ve created a roundup of charts with information from experts to help you interpret symptoms, transmission modes, and incubation times for the typical seasonal ailments compared with COVID-19 and make better informed decisions about your health.

Influenza Topic Queries Google Trends

Look out for these symptoms

Have a cough, but not experiencing shortness of breath? A fever, but no runny nose? Your symptoms could be a number of possible culprits aside from COVID-19, including the cold and flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Where it becomes tricky is when dealing with overlapping symptoms, such as fatigue, cough, and sore throat.

Cold Flu or Covid Chart Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Remember: It’s important to listen to your body. Stress and anxiety can manifest in many ways, and can sometimes cause confusion when deciphering symptoms. Plus, there are a lot of viruses that can make you feel ill throughout the winter and spring. Usually your immune system can do the work to get you back on your feet, with a little extra sleep, staying hydrated, and eating well. But don’t be afraid to consult your doctor if you have questions, or even schedule a virtual care visit if you don’t need emergency medical care. It’s best to understand what’s going on in your body than assume the worst.

Understanding incubation times

How long it takes for symptoms to appear can help point to what bug you caught. For COVID-19, the World Health Organization states that the incubation period after you are exposed to the virus is anywhere from two to 14 days, and symptoms come on gradually during that time. A typical cold virus will incubate for one to three days, with gradual symptoms appearing between seven and 10 days later. And the flu is more abrupt: incubation lasts just one to four days, and you’ll start to experience symptoms within three to seven days of infection.

How the illnesses spread

The intersection of many of these seasonal illnesses and COVID-19 is transmission. Respiratory droplets from an infected person allow many of these diseases to spread. Clinicians say you can stay protected by wearing a mask when in close contact with others and washing your hands frequently.

If your symptoms persist or you think you might have been exposed to the coronavirus, use the Amazon Care app to connect with a doctor, nurse practitioner, or nurse in minutes. They’re available to talk about your health by chat or video, 24 hours a day.

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