Winter 2021: Corona, cold or flu? Can you tell them apart? This is how the COVID-19 symptoms differ


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Winter is cold and flue season – but cough and fever are also typical corona symptoms. Find out how to differentiate between the common cold, flu and COVID-19.

Just a year ago it was clear: anyone who coughs and sniffs has caught a cold or the flu. But in times of Corona, many are insecure and ask themselves: How can I differentiate between flu, flu-like infection and COVID-19? Where patients suddenly feel bad with a real virus flu and usually have far more serious symptoms than with a flu-like infection, there are other distinguishing features with regard to Covid-19. What about in winter 2021?

Runny nose, cough, hoarseness? This could be a harmless cold or a real flu. But the novel coronavirus can also cause these symptoms. Find out here how to distinguish between these 3 diseases and how to best behave during the cold season.

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This is how to tell the different symptoms in winter 2021

1. Cold

Winter 2021

Especially in autumn and winter it is a familiar picture: people sneeze and cough everywhere, because the majority of Germans go through at least one cold or flu-like infection per year.

  • around three colds per year are normal for adults
  • in children it can even be up to ten infections

What are the typical symptoms of a cold?

Scratching in the throat, cold feet, body aches and then this slightly chipped feeling – usually a cold, also known as a flu-like infection, begins with these symptoms. Even so, an upper respiratory tract infection can develop very differently. Basically, whether you have a cough, a sore throat or a runny nose, the symptoms should improve after seven days at the latest and have completely disappeared after two weeks.

Does the cold give you a cold?

A widespread misconception is that, for example, too thin clothing can cause a cold in the cold season. This is not true, because a cold is caused by viruses. But: When the body freezes, its defense mechanism is weakened and it can become infected with viruses more quickly.

How long is a cold contagious?

A cold is contagious, especially at the beginning. You are most contagious in the first two to three days. Especially when sneezing, speaking and coughing, the viruses – embedded in mucus droplets – are widely distributed in the room air and reach the mucous membranes of other people through breathing.

2. Flu

Winter 2021

The big sister of the common cold, the real flu – also known as influenza – is not to be trifled with, because it does not always go without complications. Severe courses are relatively rare in people with a healthy immune system, but deaths occur time and again in the dreaded flu epidemics. Older people and children are particularly at risk here.

What are the typical symptoms of the flu?

In the beginning, in particular, it is easy to mistake the flu for a cold. The difference between influenza and the common cold, however, shows in the course and severity of the disease.

The symptoms of influenza usually appear suddenly – and they are more severe than with a normal cold. In particular, exhaustion, tiredness as well as headache and body aches are much more pronounced. In addition, the flu is far more often associated with a higher fever than a cold. Especially in people with a weakened immune system, bacterial complications such as severe pneumonia or inflammation of the heart muscle can occur.

What to do if you have a fever

If the body reacts with a fever – i.e. with an increased temperature above 38 degrees Celsius, this is not an independent disease, but a defense reaction of the organism. When the body fights cold viruses, it releases messenger substances that can lead to an increase in body temperature. This is actually a desirable function, because it accelerates the metabolic processes, which supports the body’s defense reaction. So: do not resort to antipyretic measures too quickly.

How long is the flu contagious?

The flu is contagious even during its incubation period. It usually ranges from a few hours to three days. After the outbreak of the flu, the viruses can be contagious for three to five days, and children can pass the influenza on for up to seven days after the first symptoms appear.

3. COVID-19

Winter 2021

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), there are common and less common symptoms. Some people who are infected with the coronavirus even show no symptoms, but can infect other people. Therefore, the recommended and prescribed hygiene and protective measures must be strictly observed. Many infected people develop only mild symptoms, so you should be careful and avoid contact with the first signs of illness.

Common symptoms of COVID-19

According to RKI (As of January 8, 2021) 40 percent of those infected suffer from a cough, 28 percent from a fever and 27 percent have a runny nose. 21 percent of people suffering from the coronavirus perceive a disorder of the sense of smell and taste, 1 percent suffer from pneumonia, i.e. pneumonia. The RKI emphasizes that in other studies the loss of the sense of smell and taste is stated to be significantly higher. Fever, dry cough, and fatigue are according to WHO the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

Less common symptoms of COVID-19

According to the RKI, some patients also suffer from sore throats, shortness of breath, as well as headaches and body aches. Loss of appetite and weight loss have also occurred, as well as nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Some infected people develop conjunctivitis, skin rashes, swelling of the lymph nodes, feel apathetic and sleepy. According to the WHO, discoloration of the fingers or toes can also occur.

What symptoms should you get tested for?

According to the Robert Koch Institute, everyone with symptoms of an acute respiratory disease should be tested. This means: if you cough or if you lose your sense of smell or taste, you should consult a doctor. First call your family doctor or contact the medical on-call service at 116 117. If you have good reason to suspect that you have been infected, you can also contact the health department.

Anyone who has had contact with infected people should also be tested. To keep track of that, you can use theWarning app from the federal governmentinstall and leave your contact details when asked.

People who come into contact full-time or on a voluntary basis with people who generally have a higher risk of serious illnesses should also be tested. These are, for example, those employed in care for the elderly or in hospitals.

If a doctor recommends a test, isolate yourself: stay at home and avoid social contacts.

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