Flu, cold or already crown? The most important differences at a glance


Loss of taste, dry cough and shortness of breath? Sure: Covid-19. But what about a sore throat and a runny nose? Our overview of how to distinguish Corona from the flu or a cold.

Influence or Crown?  Headaches can occur with both diseases.

Influence or Crown? Headaches can occur with both diseases.

Image: Martin Ruetschi, Keystone

The throat scratches, only slightly, only a little, barely noticeable. The nose is dripping, only slightly, only a little, barely noticeable. The head hurts, only slightly, only a little, barely noticeable – is it a cold? Influence? Am I just an overly sensitive hypochondriac? Or maybe it’s Covid-19 after all?

The fact that the whole country spits, sneezes and sniffs is as common in mid-October as the smell of chestnuts on a shopping street or the first Christmas decorated pralines on the supermarket shelf. It is rare that in addition to the usual flu and rhinoviruses that cause flu and colds, coronaviruses also circulate from the mucosa to the mucosa: the trend is rapidly increasing. The number of cases published daily is the feverish curve of the crown crisis. And it currently knows only one direction: an exponential upward swing as steep as it is elegant. In Switzerland, the numbers are currently rising more in a European comparison. Steeper than Germany, steeper than Italy and steeper than the Netherlands, whose government recently declared a partial blockade.

Different diseases, similar symptoms

The wicked thing about the virus with the strange name SARS-CoV-2 is that the symptoms of its illness hardly differ from conventional cold or seasonal flu. Sore throat, runny nose, headache: who’s the culprit: rhino, flu or coronavirus? When looking at the symptoms, the differences are small, similar, and overlap. However: there are slight differences in the symptoms and course of the disease. We have listed the most important ones for you:

Let’s start with the harmless common cold, which usually ends after about a week. Pathogens can be different viruses: about 40% are caused by rhinoviruses, 30% by various conventional coronaviruses (not the new type of coronavirus) and 10 to 15% by RSV viruses. Typical symptoms – as you know them – are: sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, muscle aches and sometimes coughing. A cold usually comes slowly and slowly and is ambushed like a ninja.

A real flu, on the other hand, comes like a punch from a heavyweight boxer: abrupt and violent. The fever is often high, sometimes with chills and foci of sweating, the headache is severe and piercing, and severe sore throat with difficulty swallowing. On the other hand, colds and loss of smell and taste are more rare. Symptoms usually last from one to two weeks. The triggers are the flu viruses.

Covid-19, on the other hand, is a true shapeshifter: one calls shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing as symptoms, the other complains of coughing and loss of taste. And yet another has a fever and aching limbs. Sneezing, however, does not occur. In its weekly situation report, the Federal Office of Public Health lists fever (64%), cough (63%) and breathing difficulties (41%) as the most common complaints of hospitalized patients. Pneumonia is present in 44 percent.

An overview of the British Medical Journal, in which various international studies are collected and evaluated, reaches similar values: 77% of patients developed fever, dry cough in 68% and breathing difficulties in 38%. Symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue, chest tightness or headache are also classified as common. These symptoms occurred in approximately 20% or less of all patients. Covid-19, a shapeshifter – the British magazine also writes: “It is not possible to differentiate Covid-19 from respiratory tract infections by signs and symptoms”. In German:

“Differentiation of Covid-19 from other respiratory diseases is not possible on the basis of signs and symptoms”.

Swissmedic, the Swiss Medicines Licensing and Control Authority, also writes in a brochure: “Direct detection of viral nucleic acid in a nasopharynx swab may indicate SARS-CoV-2 in patients with symptoms compatible with Covid-19 – Infections are closed. ”In plain language: If you have symptoms and a positive PCR test result, a new coronavirus infection is likely. To make this even clearer:

This article is at best a help, only a test brings certainty.

Symptoms?  This way please!

Symptoms? This way please!

Image: Bruno Kissling
(18. September 2020)

The vast majority have mild symptoms

According to the FOPH, the vast majority of infected people have a mild course of the disease. Specifically: “You have symptoms that remain mild and only last a few days.” Even with a severe course, the symptoms are initially mild but worsen after five to ten days. “If the course is severe, the disease usually lasts two to four weeks,” writes the BAG. With good medical treatment, the sick in most cases would heal again.

Even with a critical course, in which symptoms of a severe course worsen, over 80% survive. According to the current state of knowledge, about 5 percent of those who tested positive die from the consequences of the disease.

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