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Is it a cold, flu, or Covid-19? Learn the differences, best next steps, and how Maple can help this cold and flu season

November 17, 2023 • read

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Is it a cold, flu, or Covid-19? Learn the differences, best next steps, and how Maple can help this cold and flu season

It’s that time of the year again. Colds, the flu, and Covid-19 come knocking on the door with our cold Canadian weather. When someone in your family brings home a virus, it’s often just days before it hits the next person. With so many overlapping symptoms it can feel overwhelming and sometimes difficult to tell the difference between colds, the flu and Covid-19 without a test. Read more to learn about the preventative measures you can take to avoid getting sick, and know when you should seek medical advice and get treatment.

If you’re not feeling well, here is a handy chart to help you determine what could be causing your symptoms.

Symptom chart for cold, flu and covid-19 including fever, chills, headaches and more

Find out what you can do to steer clear, get better, and how Maple can get you the care you need from anywhere, at any time. If you need it, you can get lab work ordered, a sick note, and even choose to have your Maple prescription delivered to your door for free. For residents of Ontario, a subscription with Maple+ can give you the added reassurance of unlimited* visits for all family members in your household.

Differences between colds, the flu, and Covid-19


Colds generally have less severe symptoms and come on more gradually. The time it takes from first contact to feeling symptoms ranges from 1 to 4 days. People are most contagious in the first 3 days, but can continue up to 2 weeks after the start of your symptoms.

The names head cold vs common cold vs cold are often used interchangeably. A head cold and chest cold differ by the location of the symptoms. Symptoms like sore throat, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose are examples of head cold symptoms. Chest colds have a cough or chest congestion as your main symptoms.

Head colds and runny noses can also lead to coughs. Postnasal drip is one of the most common causes of coughing. The mucus drips down your throat, causing you to cough. It’s also why coughing seems to gets worse at night when you are laying down. If you have a cough at night without other flu or cold symptoms, you will want to talk about this with a healthcare provider as it could be a sign of something else more serious.


Flu symptoms on the other hand come on suddenly, without much warning, and you can feel terrible. You may have all over body aches, pains, and fever as your body tries to fight or kill the invading virus by spiking your temperature. If you are wondering, “how long does a fever last?” You aren’t the only one, and in the moment, it probably feels like forever. Rest assured, most people feel better after 3 to 7 days. Some may have a lingering cough and body aches for 2 weeks or longer. If your symptoms last longer than 7 to 10 days, you will want to connect with a healthcare provider.


Covid-19 is unique in that it can have a range of symptoms and symptom severity from mild if any, all the way to very severe and sometimes even life threatening. Covid-19 is a virus with many different variants changing almost monthly. So far, the dominant variant does not show itself to be more severe than the previous strains.

Treatment options

When it comes to treating viral infections–colds, flus, and Covid-19 alike, there are no cures. Isolation and self-care are great places to start. Give yourself plenty of rest and hydrate well. The next best thing is to treat your symptoms.

Home Remedies

Many tried and true remedies have been practiced in homes for thousands of years. Some home remedies to consider for this cold and flu season:

Infograph with home remedies to consider for this cold and flu season: Ginger Garlic, Echinacea, Zinc, Honey, Gut health

It’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of even natural supplements to ensure there are no interactions with other medicines you may be taking. Work with a healthcare provider or pharmacist to make sure these options are safe for you.

Over the counter medications

Nasal decongestants or saline sprays can help break up stuffy noses. Analgesics and antipyretics like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDS (Advil or Aleve for example) can help with headaches, pain, and fever.

Always avoid giving acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin, ASA) to children and adolescents under 18 years old to avoid the risk of Reye Syndrome. It’s a rare disorder that causes brain swelling among other things.

Antiviral treatments

Antivirals are available to treat flu and Covid-19. They can speed up recovery and help prevent complications. Symptoms of flu can be reduced in length by up to 24 hours by taking antiviral treatments like Tamiflu. Paxlovid and Veklury are some of the antiviral therapies available in Canada to treat Covid-19. Antivirals work best when taken early, on day 1 of your symptoms. Like most medicines, they also come with side effects, and are best used when the risks of flu or Covid-19 complications outweigh the side effects of the drug.

Preventing colds, the flu, and Covid-19

Did you know that up to half of people with flu or Covid-19 can be walking around completely symptom free? Colds, the flu, and Covid-19 are all spread from person to person by droplets that are sprayed into the air with coughing and sneezing. There are steps you can take to minimize the spread of viruses even without having symptoms yourself this cold and flu season. Try these protective practices:

Avoid touching your face
Coughing or sneezing into tissues or your elbow
Practice good hand hygiene especially before eating by washing your hands with soap and water for about 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a great alternative on the go
Keep to healthy sleep routines, with consistent sleep and wake-up times, aiming for 8 hours of sleep each night
Reach for nourishing whole foods more than pre-packaged and processed foods
Hydrate well
Exercise regularly with moderately intense physical activity 150 minutes per week
You can mask up when physical distancing is not an option
Prime your immune system with a vaccine for flu or covid-19. Vaccines can reduce the severity of covid and flu symptoms and length of illness
Isolate if you get sick. For flu symptoms, it is best to stay home for at least 7 days, or another 24 hours after your fever and respiratory symptoms have stopped

When you need a doctor, Maple is here for you

Many can fend off a cold, flu, or Covid-19 at home, but sometimes you may need to tag in your healthcare provider to help. You should do this if your cold or flu symptoms improved but then worsened once again, or your other medical conditions have gotten worse. A general rule of thumb is if you don’t feel like you’re getting better around days 7-10 with a cold, flu, or Covid-19, then you will want to connect with a healthcare professional to rule out a complication like pneumonia for example. However, if you or someone you know is working hard or struggling to breathe, has persistent chest or stomach pains, is lethargic, confused or disoriented, seek emergent medical care right away.

We all know that sickness pops up at the most inconvenient times. With Maple, get the convenience of 24/7 virtual care anytime, anywhere. Visit with one of our Canadian-licensed providers today.

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