COVID-19: Stay Healthy, Stay Informed.
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March 19, 2020

Cold, Flu, or COVID-19?

Suffering from a cough, stuffy nose, and sore throat? You may be sick, but what exactly do you have? Will it last only for a few days, or is it something more serious? With all the information circulating about COVID-19, jumping to a hasty conclusion about what your symptoms is easy. Here’s a useful guide that breaks down the differences between the flu, the common cold and COVID-19 to put things in perspective.



“Common cold” is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract – namely, the nose and the throat. It’s known as the “common cold” because an average adult can expect to suffer from a few colds a year. Over 100 viruses can lead to the cold, but it’s commonly caused by the highly contagious rhinovirus. This virus is prevalent all year long so you can catch a cold at any time.



The flu is also a viral infection, but it affects the entire respiratory system, including the nose, throat and lungs. The flu is caused by the influenza virus, and it is usually prevalent between the Fall and the Spring. That’s why Winter is often called the “flu season.”



Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). Some transmit easily from person to person while others do not. COVID-19 is a new disease that had not been previously identified in humans.



Since a cold, the flu and COVID-19 are all viral infections that affect the respiratory system, their symptoms can be similar. For example, cough, runny nose and sore throat are typical symptoms of both flu and cold.

Cold & Flu

Where the two diseases differ is in the severity of the symptoms. Although a cold is no walk in the park, the flu is downright miserable! A cold rarely makes you feel achy or feverish, and even so these symptoms will be much less severe than those associated with the flu. For example, flu fevers are typically higher, often reaching 39 to 40 degrees Celsius.

Also, the flu can affect your entire body, not just your respiratory system. Fatigue, headaches and severe aches and pain are very common among flu sufferers. Some are even affected by shaking chills.

The Flu also lasts a lot longer than the common cold. You can usually expect to recover from your cold after a week, but a flu lasts for approximately 10 days.


Many symptoms of the cold or the flu are also found in COVID-19, which is why it can be hard to make a distinction. Shortness of breath seems to a key symptom indicating that you might be dealing with COVID-19.*



Given the current situation, if you want to relieve your symptoms, contact your pharmacist directly on the phone.  They will be able to assess your situation and recommend a product that is right for you. If you cannot leave the house or are in self-isolation, enquire with your pharmacist about the different options they can provide your medication, such as home deliveries, if available. Remember that it is important and recommended to stay at home if you have COVID-19 symptoms, as to not spread the virus.



Most people can treat their sickness by staying at home and resting. In certain circumstances, however, you should see a doctor or healthcare professional to make sure the flu doesn’t progress into something more severe. If you suspect you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the following steps are recommended: 

  1. Contact the Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 Information Service at 1-833-784-4397. If you reside in Québec, please call 1-877-644-4545. Please visit for the list of Public Health Authorities, by province.
  2. Do not visit your pharmacy. Practice self-isolation to protect the health and safety of those around you.

It’s important that if you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19, to not visit your pharmacy. Call your pharmacist to review your situation over the phone and discuss the best way to receive your medication.

If you are experiencing severe shortness of breath, immediately seek emergency help (call 911).

Services in pharmacy are the sole responsibility of pharmacist-owners. Only pharmacists are responsible for pharmacy practice. They only provide related services acting under a pharmacist-owner's name.

The Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.