BEIJING - The World Health Organization (WHO) has published an article on the difference between the flu and the illness caused by the latest novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

According to the WHO, people with COVID-19 infection, the flu, or a cold typically develop respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough and runny nose. Even though many symptoms are alike, they are caused by different viruses.

Because of their similarities, it can be difficult to identify the disease based on symptoms alone. Therefore, laboratory tests are required to confirm if someone has COVID-19.

In the article, the WHO recommends that people who have cough, fever and difficulty breathing should seek medical care early. Patients should inform health care providers if they have travelled in the 14 days before they developed symptoms, or if they have been in close contact with someone who has been sick with respiratory symptoms.

As for the incubation period of the current novel coronavirus epidemic, the WHO said the current estimates of the incubation period range from 1 to 12.5 days with median estimates of 5-6 days.

These estimates are expected to be refined as more data become available. However, based on information from other coronavirus diseases, such as MERS and SARS, the WHO said that the incubation period of COVID-19 infection could be up to 14 days.

Understanding the time when infected patients may spread the virus to others is critical for control efforts, said the WHO, adding that detailed medical information from people infected is needed to determine the infectious period of COVID-19.

According to recent reports, it may be possible that people infected with COVID-19 may be infectious before showing significant symptoms. However, based on currently available data, the people who have symptoms are causing the majority of virus spread.