December 28, 2021

Is it the flu, COVID-19, or just a cold?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it’s natural to worry if you feel a cough or fever coming on. Learn about the symptoms to watch for.

Cold and flu season is upon us, and with it, the all-too-familiar sneezes and coughs.

But with the rise of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, some people are experiencing another troubling symptom: worry that each sneeze or cough could be a sign of COVID-19.

The best way to prevent worrying is to get vaccinated as soon as possible for the flu and COVID-19. That’s your strongest defense against both illnesses.

Both vaccines are offered at no cost to Kaiser Permanente members, both at our facilities and at select retail pharmacies. Visit to find flu shot locations near you. Schedule your COVID-19 vaccination at

The chart below lays out the most common symptoms of a cold, the flu, and COVID-19. In most healthy people, a cold or the flu will go away on its own. If you need care or advice, we offer members several options, including completing an e-visit on, scheduling a video or phone appointment, calling the advice number on your member ID card, or emailing your doctor.

To help protect yourself and those around you, it’s best not to visit our facilities unless a clinician has determined you require an in-person appointment. 

Cold, flu, or COVID-19: Know the symptoms

Signs and symptoms
Cold Flu  COVID-19 
Symptom onset Gradual Sudden Gradual
Muscle and body aches Slight Common Sometimes
Cough Sometimes Common Common
Diarrhea Rare Sometimes Sometimes
Fatigue, weakness Sometimes Common Common
Fever over 100 degrees Rare Common Common
Loss of taste or smell Rare Rare Sometimes
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing Rare Rare Common
Runny or stuffy nose Common Common Sometimes
Sneezing Common Sometimes Sometimes
Sore throat Common Common Common
Headache Rare Common Sometimes

Learn more about COVID-19 at Visit for information on flu symptoms and care — and to find a flu shot location near you.