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Going Viral: Is It COVID-19 Or Is It Something Else?

Going Viral: Is It COVID-19 Or Is It Something Else?

With COVID-19 following us into winter we are going to have many more other viruses to worry about. Viruses that cause the common cold and Influenza are going to peak over the next few months. Since many of these respiratory illnesses share common symptoms it can become confusing trying to figure out which virus is responsible for your symptoms and even cause you to panic unnecessarily every time you get a tickle in your throat thinking it’s Corona.

Viruses that cause the common cold and flu are by far the more common ones we see throughout winter. In this post I will outline some of the more common differences between them and COVID-19.

The Common Cold: 

The common cold is a mild viral infection of the upper respiratory system (the nose, sinuses, throat and larynx) caused by more than 200 different types of viruses.

There is usually a gradual onset of symptoms, which commonly include a runny or blocked nose, sneezing and a sore throat. There may also be a slight headache because of nasal congestion and a cough, but this is mostly because of a post-nasal drip.

The Flu:

The Influenza virus is responsible for the flu. Flu symptoms usually appear abruptly and tend to affect your entire body, causing way more uncomfortable symptoms than a cold. These include fever, body aches, a dry cough and extreme tiredness. This virus affects both the upper and lower respiratory system and can become life threatening if pneumonia develops.


The SARS-CoV-2 virus causes COVID-19. Like the influenza virus, SARS-CoV-2 also affects both the upper and lower airways. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu however they may either have a gradual onset or appear abruptly. Patients usually present with a very high fever and shortness of breath.

Disease in both COVID-19 and Influenza has a wide range of presentation, from asymptomatic or mild disease to severe illness and even death. However, one of the big differences between the two is that it is rare for Influenza to initially present with shortness of breath. With COVID-19, shortness of breath is actually a more common symptom even in mild cases.

Sources: WHO, CDC, Australian Government Department of Health



Whilst the flu vaccine will not prevent you from getting COVID-19 it is a really important vaccine to get this year because of its indirect effect:

  • It will help our resources during this Coronavirus outbreak. There will be fewer cases of flu and more importantly fewer cases of complicated flu, freeing up more resources to help patients with COVID-19 in South African hospitals.
  • Fewer people will get the flu, which will make it easier to identify COVID-19 positive cases since both diseases initially present with similar symptoms.
  • Preventing the flu also means there will be less need for people to visit doctors’ rooms and emergency departments, reducing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
  • It will reduce the risk of co-infection. It is possible to get both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could make you seriously ill.

The most effective tool against any respiratory illness is social distancing and good hand and respiratory hygiene. The current lockdown in South Africa aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by making sure people maintain a social distance by staying home. The secondary effect of this cannot be overlooked. It will also make it harder for common cold and flu viruses to get around and as a mom of a toddler, who gets a cold almost every other month, I am extremely happy about this!


This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. This is so helpful! Clear and easy to understand. Thank you.
    You speak about getting the flu vaccine. Should we be taking our babies for their scheduled vaccinations?

    1. Hi! Yes you should absolutely be taking your baby for his or her regular vaccinations. It’s a good idea to call ahead to your clinic or paed to find out what processes they have in place. Often you are required to stay in your vehicle until you are called inside for your appointment.

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