How can you differentiate a common cold from Novel Coronavirus infection?

How can you differentiate a common cold from Novel Coronavirus infection?

Last Reviewed : 12/16/2020
How can you differentiate a common cold from Novel Coronavirus infection?

Common colds are common throughout winter in the northern hemisphere. In tropical areas, they are common during the rainy season. On average, children have 6-8 colds per year and adults have 2-4 colds per year. Rhinoviruses are the most common viruses causing common cold (30%-50%), followed by Coronaviruses [not Novel Coronavirus] (5%-15%).

Symptoms of common cold usually depend on the type of virus causing it. Most of the common colds last for 7-10 days. Common colds typically start with a sore throat, followed by runny nose, nasal stuffiness, sneezing and cough. Initial watery secretions from the nose soon turn into thicker yellowish secretions. Fever is less common with common cold. Body aches and fatigue are not common with common cold.

About 81% of the Novel Coronavirus infections are mild in nature. The majority of the affected people have mild flu-like symptoms. In 14% of the affected, disease may progress to severe illness and in 5% critical illness requiring ICU level of care. The most common symptom is fever (89%), followed by cough (68%), fatigue (38%), sputum production (34%), shortness of breath (19%), body aches and joint pains (15%), headache (14%) and sore throat (14%). There are several overlapping symptoms but frequency and severity of the symptoms in both these conditions give clinicians a clue if it is common cold or Coronavirus infection.


Common Cold

Novel Coronavirus


Less common

Most common symptom



Second most common symptom


Less common

Third most common symptom

Sputum production


Common symptom

Shortness of breath



Body aches and joint pains



Runny nose


Less common (only 5%)

Sore throat


Seen in 14% of cases

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea


Seen in 5% of cases

Symptoms of common cold may vary once it is complicated by a bacterial infection. Symptoms of common cold also vary slightly due to Influenza viruses. Influenza viruses may have wide range of symptoms starting from common cold to more severe lower respiratory tract infections like pneumonia or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).



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  3. Treatment of signs and symptoms of the common cold using EPs 7630 - results of a meta-analysis. Andreas Schapowal et al. Heliyon. 2019 Nov; 5(11): e02904. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02904
  4. Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. Wei-jie Guan et al. New Eng Journal of Medicine. February 28, 2020
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2002032

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