Flu, cold, corona – the differences at a glance – life – knowledge

The throat scratches, only slightly, just a little, barely noticeable. The nose drips, only slightly, just a little, barely noticeable. The head hurts, only slightly, just a little, barely noticeably – is it a cold? A flu? Am I just an overly sensitive hypochondriac? Or is it possibly 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 in a shopping street or the first Christmas decorated praline boxes on the supermarket shelf. It is unusual that in addition to the usual influenza and rhinoviruses that cause flu and colds, coronaviruses also circulate from mucous membrane to mucous membrane: the trend is rapidly increasing. The number of cases published daily is the fever curve of the corona crisis. And it currently only knows one direction: an exponential upward swing that is as steep as it is elegant. In Switzerland, the numbers are currently increasing the most in a European comparison. Steeper than Germany, steeper than Italy and steeper than the Netherlands, whose government recently declared a partial lockdown.

Different diseases, similar symptoms

The perfidious thing about the virus with the awkward name SARS-CoV-2 is that the symptoms of its illness hardly differ from conventional colds or the seasonal flu. A sore throat, a dripping nose, a sore head – who is the culprit: rhino, influenza, or coronavirus? When looking at the symptoms, the differences are small, similar, and overlap. Nevertheless: There are slight differences in the symptoms and in the course of the disease. We have listed the most important ones for you:

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© CH Media© CH Media


Let’s start with the harmless common cold, which is usually over after about a week. Pathogens can be different viruses: Around 40 percent are caused by rhinoviruses, 30 percent by various conventional coronaviruses (not the new type of coronavirus) and 10 to 15 percent by RSV viruses. Typical symptoms – as you know them – are: sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, body aches, and sometimes coughing. A cold usually comes quietly and slowly and from ambush 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 outbreaks of sweat, the headache is severe and boring, and severe sore throat with difficulty swallowing. On the other hand, colds and the loss of the sense of smell and taste are rarer. Usually symptoms last for one to two weeks. Influenza viruses are the trigger.


Covid-19, on the other hand, is a real shapeshifter: One names shortness of breath and difficulty swallowing as symptoms, the next complains about 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 names fever (64 percent), cough (63 percent) and breathing difficulties (41 percent) as the most common complaints of hospitalized patients. Pneumonia is present in 44 percent.

There is also a similar value Overview of the British Medical Journal, in which various international studies are collected and evaluated: 77 percent of the patients developed a fever, a dry cough in 68 percent, and breathing difficulties in 38 percent. Pain in the limbs, tiredness, tightness in the chest or headaches occur in almost 20 percent of all patients (depending on the symptoms, however, it is only 16 percent …). The Britical Medical Journal classifies this as “common”. Covid-19, a shape shifter – the British journal therefore also writes: “Differentiating Covid-19 from respiratory tract infections is not possible from signs and symptoms.” In German:

Swissmedic, the Swiss licensing and control authority for medicinal products, also writes in a leaflet: “The direct detection of viral nucleic acid in a nasopharynx swab can detect SARS-CoV-2 in patients with Covid-19-compatible symptoms -Infection are closed. » In plain language: If you have symptoms and a positive PCR test result, an infection with the new type of coronavirus is likely. To make it even clearer:

Symptoms?  This way, please!Symptoms?  This way, please!

Symptoms? This way, please!

© Bruno Kissling (18. September 2020

The great majority have mild symptoms

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

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


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