By Parkland Health

Could your cough, runny nose or body aches indicate it’s the flu, a cold or COVID? 

These three sicknesses have at least two things in common:

  • They are contagious respiratory illnesses. 
  • They share similar symptoms, making it hard to know what exactly a person has. 

“It’s difficult to differentiate the symptoms between a cold, the flu and COVID because many symptoms overlap,” says Cristina Tamez, MD, a pediatrician at Parkland’s Hatcher Station Health Center. Cold symptoms are typically milder than flu symptoms. If you have a cold, you typically have a runny or stuffy nose and don’t run the risk of serious health problems.”

Symptoms of a cold tend to appear more gradually, whereas flu symptoms show up abruptly. Common symptoms the flu and COVID share:

  • fatigue 
  • cough 
  • stuffy nose 
  • sore throat 

And what about COVID? Compared to the flu, those with COVID may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for a longer period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are also overlapping warning signs between flu and COVID, varying from no symptoms to severe symptoms. “The best way to know what you have is to get tested,” said Dr. Tamez. 

“We learned a lot throughout the pandemic about washing our hands, covering our coughs or sneezes, wearing a mask in big crowds or public areas and keeping our distance.” Another way to help reduce the spread is to get vaccinated. 

“There’s this ongoing myth that the flu vaccine makes you sick. The flu vaccine contains a dead virus so it can’t give you the flu,” Dr. Tamez said. “It takes two to three weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect.” The flu vaccine works similarly to the COVID vaccine, she noted. It doesn’t stop someone from getting the flu; rather it helps reduce the severity of the symptoms, complications and chances of someone ending up in the hospital if they get the flu. 

“Getting the COVID or flu vaccine is like putting on your seatbelt. Just because you have your seatbelt on doesn’t mean you won’t be in a car accident, but it does help reduce injury and even save lives,” said Dr. Tamez. 

You can get vaccinated at select Parkland neighborhood-based health centers during Walk-In Wednesdays, from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. Parkland also offers a Mobile Immunization Van that community event organizers can request to roll up to gatherings so everyone can get vaccinated to protect others. Visit to find a clinic nearest you and for more information on how to request the immunization van. And remember, our team is here for your team!