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Got the sniffles? How to tell if it’s a cold, the flu or Covid

WE all know someone who’s constantly walking around with a tissue to deal with their sniffly nose.

But as temperatures drop and cases of respiratory illnesses like cold and flu increase, it can be hard to know exactly what’s potentially going round.

If you’re feeling a little under the weather at the moment, then it’s hard to know if you have a cold, flu or Covid

Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that this year’s flu season began earlier than normal.

While cases of Covid-19 have dropped in recent weeks, people are still testing positive with the milder Omicron strain.

The Office for National Statistics estimated 1.9million Brits had the virus last week, after cases dropped by nine per cent.

It was the first decline since the end of August and shows the latest surge peaked at just half the size of the July wave.

NHS figures also reveal the number of people in hospital beds with the bug has fallen to 7,296 – down by a third in three weeks.

Daily admissions have halved in the same time.

Dr Mary Ramsay, of the UKHSA, said: “The vaccination programme means that Covid-19 cases and hospitalisation rates are still falling across the UK, which is excellent news.

“We need to make sure that we remain protected through the winter.”

Many Brits coming down with the bug have said it feels like a bad cold, with many struggling with symptoms such as a sore throat and a cough.

Colds, flu and Covid are all caused by viral infections of the respiratory system and as all three infections share several similar symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. 

Boots Superintendent Pharmacist Claire Nevinson, shared her top tips on how you can determine what’s wrong.


Claire explained: “Common symptoms of both cold and flu include a sore throat, blocked or runny nose, sneezing and coughing.  

“Cold symptoms tend to be milder and usually clear up within a week.

“In contrast, flu symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.

“Common flu symptoms include a fever, aching muscles and chills. 

“The main symptoms of Covid-19 are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and loss or change to your sense of taste or smell, but people can also get other symptoms which are very similar to colds and flu.”

The easiest way to check you have Covid is to take a test.

These are available for free for some groups – such as those who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from the bug, for example, if you are immunosuppressed.

You may also be asked to take a test if you are going to hospital for a procedure.

The most recent data from ZOE states that people who are catching Omicron are showing specific symptoms.

The most common include a sore throat, a runny nose and a headache.

However, many people still report suffering a loss of smell, with around 14 per cent struggling with this.

Around 12.98 per cent also suffer with chills or shivers.

Claire added that most people with Covid will feel better within a few weeks.

She said there are some things you can do at home to help relieve the symptoms.

Claire explained: “If you have a high temperature, it can help to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids (water is best) and if you feel uncomfortable you may wish to take pain relief medicine, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, if it’s suitable for you.

“To help with a cough, try sitting upright or lying on your side, rather than your back.

“Speak to a pharmacist or member of the pharmacy team for advice on cough medicines if you’d like something to help with your symptoms.

“If you’re feeling breathless, try your best to relax and take slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth until the sensation eases.

“If you feel your breathlessness is getting worse, go to, call 111 or call your GP surgery for medical advice.”

Experts at the CDC in the US said that one main difference is that you are infectious for longer if you have Covid, compared to the flu or a cold.

They stated: “On average, people can begin spreading the virus that causes Covid-19 two to three days before their symptoms begin, but infectiousness peaks one day before their symptoms begin.

“On average, people are considered contagious for about eight days after their symptoms began.”



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