COVID or the flu? How can you tell the difference?

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Some symptoms of flu—as well as colds and other autumn ailments—are similar to Covid’s, making it harder to know what’s wrong. Fever, dry cough, fatigue and body aches are common with both the flu and Covid.

If you’re concerned, call your doctor. And there are some ways to try to recognize the differences. Here’s what doctors say.

Does the speed of onset vary between Covid-19 and flu?

Coronavirus symptoms often come on suddenly around day five to seven, but can appear as long as 14 days after exposure. Those who have the flu tend to experience symptoms one to four days after exposure, says [infectious disease specialist] Molly Fleece.

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Sneezing and a stuffy nose are often associated with a cold. Can nasal congestion be a sign of Covid-19?

Yes, but it’s less likely. The good news is that most colds start with nasal congestion, but it’s not one of the primary symptoms of Covid-19, says Dr. Fleece. A stuffy nose is also less worrisome if that’s the only symptom you have, she adds. Having Covid-19 with “just a runny nose is probably unlikely,” she adds.

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Another symptom that’s more prevalent with a cold: a wet cough where phlegm is involved. On the other hand, a dry cough or especially a loss of smell or taste can be symptomatic of Covid-19, she adds.

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