With winter approaching, the UK is entering the traditional seasons for colds and flu, with the additional complication this year that symptoms of those two illnesses can be broadly similar to those experienced by people who have caught the coronavirus and may be at risk of spreading it.
The NHS in England has produced a guide to differentiate between the three types of illnesses, which health experts hope will make it clearer to people whether they have an illness they would have most likely brushed aside last year, but which this year might lead them to think they need to self-isolate or seek to have a coronavirus test.
Coronavirus or Covid-19
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The most common symptoms of coronavirus or Covid-19 are a fever – a temperature of 37.8C (100F) – a new persistent cough (usually dry), and a loss of their sense of taste and/or smell. Patients may also sometimes suffer from fatigue, aches and pains, sore throat, headaches and shortness of breath. Diarrhoea and a runny or stuffy nose are rare. The NHS says symptoms can range from mild to severe.
The most common symptoms of a cold are sneezing, aches and pains, a runny or stuffy nose and sore throat. A mild cough can be experienced. There is sometimes fatigue, and it is rare to experience a fever or headaches. Colds do not cause diarrhoea. The NHS states that with a cold there is usually a gradual onset of symptoms.
Flu most commonly consists of a fever, fatigue, a dry cough, aches and pains and headaches. Patients will sometimes experience a runny or stuffy nose or a sore throat. Diarrhoea can sometimes occur in children. There is no sneezing or shortness of breath with flu, and the NHS notes there is usually a rapid onset of symptoms.
• This article was amended on 19 September 2020 to include a loss of taste and/or smell as a common symptom of people with coronavirus.
If you are in any doubt and are concerned about your wellbeing or the health of someone you are caring for, you should seek medical assistance in the UK by dialling 111 or by following the Covid-19 advice on the NHS website.
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