Your child has a sore throat, cough and fever. Is it COVID-19? Could it be the flu, or maybe just a cold?
Viruses that infect the respiratory tract can cause any of these illnesses. All are contagious and share similar symptoms. Eric Robinette, MD, MPH, pediatric infectious disease physician at Akron Children’s Hospital, recommends parents be aware not only of symptoms, but also key differences to keep kids healthy and slow the spread of these viruses.
Symptoms of a cold:
Kids can get about eight colds a year. They are typically caused by a virus found in the air or on the things we touch. Symptoms may include:
- Stuffy or runny nose (may start out watery, then turn thick yellow or green)
- Itchy or sore throat
- Mild fever
- Feeling tired
- Eating less
The duration of typical cold symptoms can last between 3-14 days.
Symptoms of flu and COVID-19:
COVID-19 is caused by the novel 2019 coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2, and any of several different types and strains of influenza viruses cause the flu. Both can bring a wide-range of symptoms – from mild to severe – including:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Symptoms uniquely associated with COVID-19 also include changes in, or loss of, taste or smell. COVID-19 also seems to spread more easily than flu and can cause more serious illnesses in people, including multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
A major difference between flu and COVID-19 is the duration. With COVID-19, a person typically develops symptoms 2-14 days after infection. For the flu, a person develops symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection.
Because many of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. Contact your child’s provider to determine if an appointment is necessary or if testing is needed to confirm a diagnosis.
Always seek immediate medical attention if your child has trouble breathing, persistent pain in the chest, seems confused or looks blue in the face or lips.
Prevention is best
Dr. Robinette notes that the common cold, flu and COVID-19 often spread in similar ways – from person-to-person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking. To help slow the spread of these viruses, the same public health measures – good hand hygiene, covering coughs or sneezes in the elbow, wearing a face covering and safe social distancing – are actions everyone can take to stay healthy.
While testing and vaccines aren’t available to treat colds, many flu viruses can be prevented with a yearly flu vaccine and there’s now a COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged 12 and older – and may soon be offered to younger kids.
If you need to speak with a provider, contact an Akron Children’s provider to schedule an in-person visit or contact Akron Children’s through Quick Care Online®or MyChart telehealth for a virtual visit.