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Determining If You Have a Cold, Flu or COVID-19

Cold and flu season is here, and you’re sick. How can you tell what you’re sick with and if you need to see a doctor?

With the start of cold and flu season coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic it can be confusing to determine what symptoms relate to which illness.

Colds, flu-like illnesses and COVID-19 share many symptoms. These include fever, which tends to relate more to the flu or COVID-19 and merits contacting your primary care provider.

“With any cold and flu-like illness, we continue to ask patients to call their health care providers first thing, so their symptoms can be assessed, and patients can be routed to appropriate treatment and testing,” said Adam Brady, MD, of Samaritan Infectious Disease.

Regardless of your symptoms, you should stay home and limit contact with other people to avoid spreading the illness. Make sure to disinfect high-touch areas — such as doorknobs and countertops — and wash your hands frequently.

To reduce your chances of catching the flu, be sure to get a flu shot. More information on where you can get a flu shot can be found at

Below is a matrix to help you identify the signs of cold, flu-like illnesses and COVID-19. While this might serve to inform you about your symptoms, please remember to call your health care provider if you have any cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms or complete a Coronavirus Concerns visit through





Onset of Symptoms

2 to 14 days after exposure Gradual onset Abrupt onset

Length of Symptoms

7 to 25 days Less than 14 days 7 to 14 days


Common (usually dry)
Common (mild)
Common (usually dry)

Shortness of Breath

Sometimes No** No**


No Common No

Runny or Stuffy Nose

Rare Common Sometimes

Sore Throat

Sometimes Common Sometimes


Sometimes Short fever period Common

Tired & Weak

Sometimes Sometimes Common


Sometimes Rare Common

Body Aches & Pains

Sometimes Common Common


Sometimes No Sometimes for children

Chills/ Shivering

Sometimes No Sometimes

Loss of Taste/ Smell

Sometimes Rare Rare

Your symptoms may vary. *Information is still evolving. **Allergies, colds and flu can all trigger asthma, which can lead to shortness of breath. COVID-19 is the only one associated with shortness of breath on its own. Sources: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Learn more about your options for getting the flu vaccine this year including Samaritan’s new drive-up flu clinics.