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What is the difference between the flu, a cold and COVID-19?

Influenza, the common cold & COVID-19 are all contagious respiratory illnesses. Whilst they share similar symptoms, they are caused by different viruses.

Influenza are a group of viruses that are responsible for the disease we commonly call the 'flu'.  

With a cold you generally only experience mild symptoms like a runny nose. But influenza and COVID-19 can cause serious respiratory illness and can lead to severe complications like pneumonia.

Influenza is a disease that is spread from person to person during coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with respiratory secretions (e.g. saliva, nasal discharge). It can cause a wide range of disease, from mild to more severe disease that affects many body systems and can result in hospitalisation, other infections (e.g. pneumonia) and even death.

COVID-19 comes from a large family of viruses called coronaviruses. It is transmitted in the same way as the flu, with similar symptoms, but overall COVID-19 appears to cause more serious illnesses in some people.

So is it the flu, a cold, allergies or COVID-19? It’s important to be aware of the symptoms and to get tested if you become sick to confirm your diagnosis. Here are some general ways you can distinguish some of the symptoms:

SYMPTOMS

COVID-19
(ranging from
mild to severe
symptoms)

COLD
(symptoms
develop
gradually)

FLU
(symptoms
develop
suddenly)

ALLERGIES
(onset can be
gradual or
sudden)
Fever Often Rarely Often No
Cough Often Often Often Common
(asthma)
Sore Throat Sometimes Often Sometimes Sometimes
(itchy throat & palate)
Shortness of breath Sometimes No No Common
(asthma)
Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes Often Sometimes
Aches & pains Sometimes No Often No
Headaches Sometimes Often Often Sometimes
Runny or stuffy nose Sometimes Often Sometimes Often
Diarrhoea Rarely No Sometimes
(especially in children)
No
Sneezing  No Often No Often
         

Adapted from Australian Government, Department of Health (COVID-19: Identifying the symptoms).

Why do I need to get vaccinated against the flu each year?

There are two main reasons for getting an influenza vaccine every year, to give you the best protection:

  • Flu viruses are frequently changing and vaccines may be updated from one season to the next to protect against the most recent and common circulating strains
  • A person’s immune protection from influenza vaccination declines over time and annual vaccination is recommended.
How do you get whooping cough?

As whooping cough is a highly contagious disease, it can be caught whenever an infected person comes in contact with a susceptible person.

Simply put, whooping cough is spread from person to person through a fine mist of tiny droplets in the air. These tiny droplets are transmitted between people through close contact with an infected person. In an infected person, the tiny droplets contain the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. This bacterium gives its name – pertussis – to the disease we commonly call whooping cough.

If you breathe in the tiny droplets of bacteria, you become exposed to the highly contagious disease. You can also get whooping cough from sharing food or drinks or from close contact like kissing.

What are the risks of not vaccinating my baby?

Your baby’s immune system is not fully developed like older children and adults. Therefore, vaccination is an effective way to protect your baby against certain vaccine-preventable infectious diseases.
 

By keeping your child up to date with their vaccinations, you’re also helping out the community by protecting the more vulnerable people from becoming infected. Many of the diseases we are vaccinating against are rarely seen in Australia anymore, which is because of routine widespread vaccination and surveillance. These diseases do still occur in some parts of the world. If we stopped vaccination and someone was to arrive from overseas with one of these infections, it could easily spread to others.

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