Flu, Cold, COVID-19 and RSV Symptoms Comparison Chart


Flu, Cold, COVID-19 and RSV Symptoms Comparison Chart

Flu, Cold, COVID-19 and RSV Symptoms Comparison

In our ongoing battle against various respiratory illnesses, understanding the differences between COVID-19, the common cold, the flu, and RSV is essential.

Different viruses cause each of these illnesses, and each presents unique symptoms. With the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resurgence of other respiratory viruses like RSV and the flu at RapidCare Emergency Room, we believe staying informed is more crucial than ever.

Key Differences


COVID-19 is an illness triggered by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It spreads from person to person, especially in close contact. It’s important to remember that anyone can contract COVID-19. While many recover without medical treatment, some individuals may become seriously ill, and the disease can be fatal for some.

Risk groups include older adults over 60 and anyone with a pre-existing health condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and weakened immune systems.


Common Cold

Rhinoviruses typically cause the common cold, but other viruses like coronaviruses and adenoviruses can also contribute.

The common cold is highly contagious and can affect anyone, but symptoms are usually milder than other illnesses.


Influenza (Flu)

Influenza viruses cause the flu, which is an acute respiratory illness. It can lead to severe health complications, including secondary infections like pneumonia. Complications are especially concerning for vulnerable populations such as older adults, young children, and individuals with weakened immune systems.


Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

RSV is a common virus that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms in healthy individuals. However, it can be severe in infants, older adults, and individuals with compromised immune systems.

What's the difference between Flu, Cold, COVID-19 and RSV

CDC’s Expectations for Hospitalizations This Year

The CDC anticipates that this year will be similar to the previous year regarding the total number of hospitalizations for COVID-19, RSV, and the flu. Unfortunately, this means hospitalizations for these respiratory illnesses will be higher compared to the pre-COVID era.

Flu, Cold, COVID-19 and RSV Symptoms Comparison

The following chart provides a handy reference for distinguishing between the common cold symptoms, the flu, COVID-19, and RSV. While this information is helpful, it’s always best to visit our ER if you have concerns about your health or are experiencing severe symptoms.

How it StartsStarts a little at a timeSudden onset of symptomsAppear 2-14 days after exposureAppear 3-8 days after exposure
HeadacheRareCommonSometimesCommon in adults
FeverRareCommon lasting 3-4 daysCommonCommon
FeverRareCommon lasting 3-4 daysCommonCommon
Body Aches & PainsSometimesCommon, often severeCommonRare
Fatigue/WeaknessSometimesCommon, can last 2-3 weeksCommonCommon
Runny Stuffy NoseCommonSometimesSometimes, with new variantsCommon
Sore ThroatCommonSometimesCommonCommon
Chest DiscomfortCommonCommon can be severeCommon can be severeCommon
CoughMild to moderate hacking coughCommon can be severeCommon can be severeCommon
Shortness of BreathSometimesSometimesCommon can be severeCommon
New Loss of Taste/SmellRareRareCommonRare
Diarrhea/VomitingRareSometimes. It is more common in childrenSometimes, with new variantsRare
Eye IrritationCommonSometimesSometimes, with new variantsSometimes
RashSometimesRareSometimes, with new variantsSometimes
ComplicationsSinus congestion and earacheBronchitis and pneumonia. It can be life-threatening.Pneumonia, stroke, heart attack, and organ failure. It can be life-threatening.Bronchiolitis, pneumonia. It can be life-threatening.

Tips to Prevent Infection and Severe Illness


  • Hand Hygiene: Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Mask-Wearing: Consider wearing masks in crowded or indoor settings, especially when social distancing isn’t possible, or you or a loved one are at high risk for severe illness.
  • Avoid Close Contact: Practice physical distancing, especially when you feel unwell.
  • Stay Home When Sick: If you’re experiencing symptoms of any illness, stay home to avoid spreading it to others.
  • Good Respiratory Hygiene: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing.
  • Vaccination: Consider vaccinating against COVID-19, the flu, and RSV. Vaccination is a powerful tool in reducing the severity of these illnesses. Speak to your doctor about the benefits and contraindications before vaccination.
wash your hands

Rapid Care ER, Emergency Care With Compassion


In the face of ongoing COVID-19, the flu, and RSV challenges, it’s essential to stay vigilant and take preventative measures seriously. Visit your nearest Rapid Care ER if you experience severe symptoms or have any concerns about your health. Together, we can reduce the spread of these viruses and protect ourselves and our communities.

All RapidCare Emergency Room locations in La PorteKatyMissouri City/Sugar Land, and Conroe/Montgomery are open 24/7 every day of the year including holidays.  We’re here to help you and your family get well fast!