Covid-19 is not the same as a common cold

7 April 2021
What was claimed

A 1989 medical textbook lists the common cold as a disease caused by coronaviruses.

Our verdict

True but coronaviruses are a family of viruses we’ve known that humans can get since the 1960s. Some cause the common cold. SARS-CoV-2 causes Covid-19.

A Facebook post claims to show a medical encyclopedia from 1989 showing that coronaviruses cause the common cold, which could imply that Covid-19 is no different from a cold. 

This picture needs more context. The word ‘coronavirus’ has been used as shorthand for SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes Covid-19. 

But coronaviruses are actually a group of hundreds of different viruses, some which cause severe diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Covid-19. 

Others cause much milder diseases, such as the common cold. An estimated 15% of adult colds are caused by coronaviruses and tend to mostly affect humans during the winter. 

The source of the image on Facebook is not provided along with the post, but the page photographed appears to be from the American Medical Association’s Encyclopedia of Medicine. 

This textbook appears in a Youtube video which also fails to understand that what we have called ‘coronavirus’ during this pandemic (SARS-CoV-2) is just one of the many coronaviruses. The person recording the video also shows the publishing information on the first pages of the book, showing that the edition of the encyclopedia was published by Random House in the US in 1989

The first human coronavirus was discovered in 1965, in an adult with the common cold. It is therefore unsurprising that this group of viruses would appear in a medical encyclopedia published 24 years later. 

False claims that Covid-19 is nothing more than a common cold, or a “rebrand” of the flu, have persisted throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because there are hundreds of types of coronavirus, and SARS-CoV-2 which causes Covid-19 is just a new member of this virus family.

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