How does coronavirus differ from a common cold and the regular flu?

‘Coronaviruses’ are a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to severe breathing diseases, like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). 

The type of coronavirus which has caused this worldwide pandemic is a new kind of coronavirus, meaning it is a strain of the virus which has not previously been seen in humans. The name of the virus is officially SARS-CoV-2. However, most people at the moment are simply calling it ‘coronavirus’. The disease it causes is called Covid-19, shorthand for COronaVIrus Disease and the year it originated, 2019.

Both the common cold and the flu are caused by a different type of virus to Covid-19.

Most kinds of virus, like the common cold, cause mild infections which alter breathing slightly. They affect the top of your respiratory tract. The respiratory tract is the part of your body that is responsible for making you breath. The top of your respiratory tract is your nose and throat. A cold therefore results in a blocked nose, headache, and sore throat. In most people, you will get the symptoms of a cold 2-3 days after you pick it up. This time delay is known as an ‘incubation period’. 

The flu is not the same as the common cold. It is caused by a different group of viruses. Flu is very infectious, meaning it spreads very easily from person to person. The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. The virus can also survive on surfaces for up to 24hours and then be picked up by people. Flu can cause more serious problems than the common cold: some people experience loss of appetite, diarrhoea (loose runny poo), tummy pain, feeling sick, being sick, and aching muscles. It can leave you feeling so unwell that you have to stay in bed. It tends to last over a week, usually up to 2 weeks. In the most serious cases, flu can also cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lung, where part or all of the lungs become filled with fluid or pus. In some people, pneumonia can result in death. Around one billion people worldwide catch the flu each year and around 290,000 to 650,000 of them die. The incubation period of the flu is 1-4 days. 

The virus which causes Covid-19 (coronavirus), like the flu, is highly infectious. We do not yet know exactly how it spreads to other people. The virus spreads mainly from person to person. It seems to spread in droplets between people who are close to each other (within about 2metres of each other) and through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets land in the mouths or noses of peopl’conle who are nearby, or they breathe them in. It is also likely that they can be picked up from surfaces, like with the flu virus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. 

Covid-19 also causes respiratory (breathing) symptoms. The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are a dry, continuous cough and a fever. It can also cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Like the flu, Covid-19 can lead to pneumonia and/or multiple organ failure. However, Covid-19 is more dangerous than the flu because more people who catch the Covid-19 will get very ill and die. You can read more about why Covid-19 is more dangerous than the flu here:

Marwin Ramos


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