Does my child have a cold, the flu or Covid-19?

Baby Yum Yum - Does my child have a cold, the flu or Covid-19
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It is quite common for individuals to use the terms “cold” and “flu” interchangeably. With the arrival of COVID-19, people became more aware that there are differences when it comes to viral, respiratory infections. When symptoms are mild, a cold, flu or COVID-19 may well present in a very similar way. One would need to do a test to establish exactly what you are dealing with.

The purpose of such testing would ultimately be to protect those who have underlying health problems and risk factors. This would include Granny and Grandpa or children with risk factors like asthma, immune issues and other chronic illnesses. It may also be important to establish the cause of the illness if symptoms persist and you, as a parent, are concerned.

Knowledge of which virus is causing the illness is the first tool in the treatment plan. The important distinguishing factors are that both flu and COVID-19 may lead to more serious complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or a stay in the hospital. A cold will make your child feel miserable but after a few days things will be back to normal.

After two long years of lockdown, I do believe that everyone knows that the culprit in the COVID-19 pandemic is the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Flu is caused by the influenza A and B viruses. The common cold is caused by a number of different viruses, including rhinoviruses, parainfluenza and seasonal coronaviruses.

How do I know if my child has a cold, the flu or Covid-19?

Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. This is especially true if the symptoms are mild. The same goes for COVID-19.

Let’s try to make a simple comparison based on what your child is experiencing BUT remember, only a test can be absolutely accurate.

does my child have a cold the flu or covid symptoms table

Is there anything that I can do to prevent my child from getting a cold, the flu or COVID-19?

Surprise, surprise: the most important ways to prevent colds and flu are the same ones that have been drummed into us with COVID-19. You need to wash your hands with soapy water for 20 seconds and should sneeze or cough into the elbow – not all over your family, friends and surfaces. Most children know this already because of COVID, but it is a good idea to remind them if they have the sniffles.

The flu vaccine is available for children from 6 months of age. If your child is getting the flu injection for the first time then he or she will need two doses, one month apart. The flu vaccine becomes available in mid-March before the flu season begins in South Africa. It takes about two weeks for the body to develop the anti-bodies needed to protect you from the virus.

How do I know if my child has a cold, the flu or Covid-19

I have heard people say that the year they had the flu vaccine was the year they got the most sick! The flu vaccine contains 4 strains of flu viruses and does not protect against all the strains. Researchers look for the strains causing the most illness and include those in the vaccine. If you do get ill then in all likelihood it was another strain causing the illness and not the ones contained in the vaccine. The more often you have the flu vaccine, the greater your protection against the flu viruses. Each time an individual has a flu vaccine he or she builds up antibodies to more strains.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not available in South Africa for our little ones as yet but it has been approved for babies from 6 months of age by the FDA.

Over and above vaccinations, eating a healthy diet, getting adequate rest and exercising regularly are all important natural ways to boost immunity. A diet rich in Vitamin D and zinc is a must for strong immunity. If your child is not eating well then your doctor may recommend a supplement during the risk periods.

If my child does get ill with a cold, the flu or Covid 19, what treatments are available?

Since colds, flu and COVID-19 are viruses, no anti-biotic treatment is going to make your child feel better. For mild symptoms of any of these viruses, one would just treat symptomatically with paracetamol for fever and pain and a decongestant for the nose.

In confirmed cases of flu, there are anti-viral agents which can be used. It is important that these be given as soon as possible for the greatest effect.

Keep in mind that flu and COVID-19 can lead to a bacterial infection. If your child is not getting over the illness and symptoms get worse, then you will need to visit your healthcare practitioner to assess if an antibiotic is required.


Winter isn’t a happy time for children when it comes to snotty noses and coughs. This is all unfortunately part and parcel of growing up. There are times, however, that these symptoms cause a child to become very ill and in need of medical attention. If your child’s temperature is above 39⁰C or does not respond to fever medications then you should seek help. Other worrying signs would include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Symptoms that are getting worse
  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Blueish skin colour

Remember that you as a parent will always be the best judge of your child’s health. If you are not happy with your child’s condition then get help. A simple cold doesn’t usually worry parents but persistent high fevers, excessive coughing or poor breathing sound alarm bells in parents, and rightfully so. Since children have been isolated for a long time, their immunity isn’t what it should be and children are getting quite ill. Trust your intuition and respond accordingly.


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