How to Tell If You Have the Flu, Coronavirus, or Something Else

This symptom chart will help you determine which virus ails you

The  of a scratchy throat is scientifically known to be accompanied by an “uh-oh” sensation, followed by the ironic hope that it’s “just a cold,” because otherwise it could be the onset of a , the looming , or some other infectious disease affecting the upper airways.

“Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in fact, the CDC’s own lists of symptoms for the two diseases draw notable distinctions in typical cases.

Symptoms of the new coronavirus, , can indeed be difficult to distinguish from flu symptoms, but in recent weeks, infectious-disease experts have gotten a clearer picture of telltale signs, particularly fever early on, and which symptoms are rare in most cases but may show up when it becomes most serious.

There are distinct differences in the most likely symptoms of various viral infections and how fast they come on.

So, how do you know whether to call a doctor immediately or just settle in with a good book and some ?

There are distinct differences in the most likely symptoms of various virus infections and how fast they come on. This chart — and the deeper explanations below on four viruses getting a lot of attention these days — can’t replace a doctor’s diagnosis, but they may help you contemplate what you’re in for. If you have , consult a health care professional, and don’t let an unknown disease fester.

Common cold

Colds are caused by more than 200 different viruses, including  and, more commonly, . While miserable and exceedingly common, a cold is rarely as debilitating as the flu.


Each year, a typical adult will catch two or three colds. Young  annually.

Common symptoms

A gradual progression often starting with a sore throat, leading to sneezing, runny nose, stuffiness, and the annoying postnasal drip (that’s  running down your throat, attempting to wash the infection away).

Possible complications

Colds are much less likely to cause serious complications compared to the flu, but they can lead to , or, more rarely, , or other  — all of which need medical treatment. Colds can also .

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