Differences between Pneumonia, Flu, Common Cold and COVID-19

Listed below are the similarities and subtle differences to be aware of for the three main respiratory illnesses and
​​​​​COVID-19.

Common cold

A mild viral infection of the nose and throat.1

Flu

A common viral infection caused by the influenza viruses.2

Pneumonia

Caused by an infection from bacteria, viruses or fungi, which causes the lungs to become inflamed and swell up with fluid.3

COVID-19

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Most people infected will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness.4

Common cold

Sore throat, blocked or runny nose, headaches, muscle aches, sneezing, a raised temperature and a cough.1

Flu

Tend to start more suddenly and last longer than those of the common cold. Include symptoms similar to the common cold, plus additional symptoms including high temperature, a headache, exhaustion and aches and pains.2  Symptoms tend to be more profound than a common cold.

Pneumonia

While pneumonia may present symptoms similar to the common cold, it is in fact more severe. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, high temperature, shivering or sweating, chest pain worsening on coughing, fatigue and a dry or productive cough.3

COVID-19

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are a high temperature, a new and continuous cough and a loss or change in your sense of smell or taste.5

​​​​​​​Note that pneumonia can also be caused by COVID-19.3 

Common cold

A cold usually clears up on its own within a week or two.1 There is no reliable prevention of colds, but you can help stop your cold spreading to friends and family by washing your hands regularly and always using a tissue to cough or sneeze.1

Flu

Generally lasts for around a week, however sufferers may feel tired for much longer.Unlike a cold, you can help protect yourself against flu with a flu vaccine.2

Pneumonia

It may take weeks to months (up to 3-6 months) to feel well again after catching pneumonia.6 Even mild cases of pneumonia can leave you with a cough that can last up to 6 weeks.6

​​​​​​​Vaccination can help reduce the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia, the most common form of bacterial pneumonia.7

COVID-19

Many people with COVID-19 feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. However, for some people, symptoms can last longer.8 For mild cases of COVID-19 people are most at risk of spreading COVID-19 up to 10 days after symptoms appear.

​​​​​​​
To try and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to other people you should wash your hands regularly, clean objects and surfaces you touch often using regular cleaning products and always use a tissue to cough or sneeze. Vaccines have also been shown to reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, or getting seriously ill or dying from the disease.10

Common cold

Unfortunately, there is no cure for a cold. Resting and drinking plenty of fluids are recommended.1

​​​​​​​For children over 6 years old and adults, over the counter cold remedies can be used to relieve symptoms.1

Flu

As with a cold, if you have flu you can look after yourself by having plenty of rest and fluids.2

A pharmacist can give treatment advice and suggest flu remedies.11

​​​​​​​For those at the most risk, antiviral medication may be recommended to reduce risk. Antiviral medication can also be used to reduce symptoms and aid recovery.2

Pneumonia

Mild cases can usually be treated with antibiotics, lots of rest and fluids at home.Left untreated, pneumonia could become serious and life threatening.3

COVID-19

Most people with COVID-19 feel better within a few weeks.12

You may be able to look after yourself at home while you recover by treating some of the milder symptoms with lots of rest and drinking fluids.12

​​​​​​​More severe COVID-19 infections may need to be treated in hospitals and you should seek further help.12

​​​​​​​For more information on COVID-19, including testing, self-isolating and vaccinations,please click here.

Help protect against pneumococcal pneumonia

Find out how to help protect yourself or others against pneumococcal pneumonia.

View References
  1. NHS. Common cold. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/. Last Accessed October 2021.
  2. NHS Inform. Flu. Available at : https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/flu/. Last Accessed October 2021.
  3. NHS. Pneumonia. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pneumonia/. Last Accessed October 2021.
  4. WHO. Corona Virus. Available at:​​​​​​​ https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1/. Last Accessed October 2021.
  5. GOV.UK. Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Rules, guidance and support. Available at:​​​​​​​ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection/.Last Accessed October 2021.
  6. NHS. Treatment- pneumonia. Available at: ​​​​​​​ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pneumonia/treatment/ . Last Accessed October 2021.
  7. NHS. Pneumococcal vaccine overview. Available at: ​​​​​​​ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/pneumococcal-vaccination/ .Last Accessed October 2021.
  8. NHS. Long-term effects of coronavirus (long COVID). Available at:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/long-term-effects-of-coronavirus-long-covid/. Last Accessed October 2021.
  9. NHS. Coronavirus (COVID-19). Self-isolation and treating symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). How to avoid spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) to people you live with. Available at: ​​​​​​​ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-and-treatment/how-to-avoid-spreading-coronavirus-to-people-you-live-with/ . Last Accessed October 2021.
  10. NHS. Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination/coronavirus-vaccine/ . Last Accessed October 2021.
  11.  NHS. Flu. Available at: ​​​​​​​ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu/ . Last Accessed October 2021.
  12. NHS. How to look after yourself at home if you have coronavirus (COVID-19). Available at: ​​​​​​​ https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-and-treatment/how-to-treat-symptoms-at-home/ . Last Accessed October 2021.
PP-VAC-GBR-1838 October 2021