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Common cold, flu and Covid: what are the differences?

Check the differences between Covid and common illnesses, such as cold and flu, using the new NHS guide.

Covid symptoms
Covid and winter illnesses symptoms.

The common cold and flu are common illness during the winter months in the UK. While the symptoms for the two illness are almost identical to those of Covid, you can still differentiate between the three using the new NHS guide. Another useful tool created by the National Health System is the Covid contact-tracing app.

NHS makes guide to differentiate between Covid, cold and flu

Officials hope it will make it clearer to people whether they have a common winter illness or need to self-isolate and request a Covid test.


The official symptoms of Covid, whose death toll worldwide has passed one million, are a fever (noted on the NHS website as a temperature of 37.8C), a new persistent usually dry cough and a loss of taste or smell.

Patients may also sometimes suffer from fatigue, aches and pains, a sore throat, headaches and shortness of breath. These symptoms vary in severity from person to person. However, somebody can be asymptomatic and therefore exhibit none of the aforementioned symptoms.


Sneezing, aches and pains, a runny or stuffy nose and sore throat are the main symptoms to look out for in colds. Some also have a mild cough. You can feel more tired than usual but it is rare to experience a fever or headaches. Colds do not cause diarrhoea. A cold usually manifests itself slowly starting with just one symptom and eventually experiencing more.


For the flu the principal warning signs are a fever, fatigue, a dry cough, aches and pains and headaches. Severe shortness of breath is also a common tell-tale sign. Sufferers sometimes have a runny nose or a sore throat too. Children with flu may also have diarrhoea but this is not a symptom for adults. The NHS notes that usually symptoms are instantly noticeable. There is usually no sneezing with flu.

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