The Common Cold and Coronavirus


By Khanyisa Makhubele

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY News.


The Common Cold

The common cold is a condition that can be caused by different families of viruses. The symptoms that manifest in a common cold are as a result of an infection in the upper respiratory tract. This includes the nose, sinuses and throat. The rhinovirus accounts for approximately 24 -52% of the clinical cases. The symptoms of a common cold include coughing, fever, sore throat, sneezing and fatigue.


The symptoms of a common cold are often self-limiting, which means the virus can run its course without the need for medical treatment. It is important to note that although it is self-limiting, it can be debilitating or associated with complications such as asthma exacerbations and acute infections in the ear. In these cases, medical treatment for the complications could be required. Because the common cold is caused by viruses and not bacteria, the use of antibiotics (which are effective against bacteria) is not recommended.


Differences between the common cold and COVID-19

South Africa has had an increase in COVID-19 infections. To date, there are more than 150 000 confirmed cases, over 76 000 recoveries and deaths over 2500, the number of active cases is just over 80 000.


The common cold season occurs in the winter months in South Africa.  The Corona Virus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19) has been, in many cases, referred to as “a severe form of the common cold”.


It is important that we are aware of the differences between the presentation of COVID-19 and the presentation of a common cold as the two are both respiratory illnesses and have some overlapping symptoms.


  Common Cold Corona Virus
Incubation period 1-3 days Average 5 – 6, can be up to 14 days
Fever Sometimes Yes
Cough Yes Yes (dry cough)
Sneezing Yes No
Sore Throat Yes Yes
Loss of taste or smell No Yes
Shortness of breath Sometimes Yes
Diarrhea Rare Sometimes


There are steps that we can take to prevent the spread of the common cold. Fortunately, many of these steps also contribute towards the prevention of the Corona Virus.

  1. Wash your hands frequently.
  2. Cough into your elbow or into a tissue (which should be disposed of immediately).
  3. Avoid touching your face.
  4. Disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.


It is important that we all take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves, our families and friends against both the common cold and corona virus.


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