Cold, flu… or COVID-19?

Is it just a cold?

With winter approaching, there’ll be runny noses, coughing and sneezing all over the place, and symptoms for each can be similar. This year, it is more important than ever to prevent the spread of respiratory infections, so how do you tell if you or your someone in your bubble has just got a cold… or something else?

A common cold

Runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and an occasional cough (but no fever) are the symptoms that indicate a regular cold. However, make sure you catch coughs and sneezes into tissues and wash your hands regularly as it is still important that you avoid spreading germs. If you are sneezing or spluttering, avoid going into the office if you are not working from home as you don’t want to spread the virus to someone who may suffer from worse symptoms if they catch it off you.

The flu

Flu can cause serious illness and kills thousands of people every winter. Symptoms tend to be focussed more on fever, aches and pains in the joints or a chesty cough. A bad flu outbreak can put a massive strain on the NHS even without COVID-19 in the picture, and if someone catches both they could be in serious trouble. If you have any of the normal flu symptoms you should isolate, and stay off work until you feel better – and it would be prudent to take a COVID-19 test to make sure you are negative, just for peace of mind.


Key symptoms for COVID-19, as we will have heard in countless press briefings, are fever, a persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, and/or a loss of taste and smell. If you or someone in your bubble has any of these, they should isolate immediately and order a test through the NHS (via the Test & Trace app is easiest). Tests should be taken within 5 days of symptoms appearing, and you’ll need to self-isolate for 10 days whilst others in your bubble will need to isolate for 14. They should also order a test if they show signs of symptoms. If you are in any doubt or not clear what to do phone NHS 111.

The good news is that no virus can move on its own. By self-isolating when you have symptoms, keeping distanced from others, catching sneezes and coughs in a tissue, washing your hands regularly and wearing a facemask in shops, each will drastically cut down the spread of all viruses – colds, flu and COVID-19. For more information visit