Do you have a cold, the flu or the Covid-19? How to make the difference


The diseases all share similar symptoms, which sometimes makes it hard to tell what is putting you under time.

“The important thing to remember is that a vaccine is like giving your immune system a call to ‘watch’. So its ability to identify, target and destroy viruses is so much higher each time we take one. another boost from the vaccine, ”says El-Sayed. “It makes sense that the symptoms you would experience would be milder if you were vaccinated.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that infections shouldn’t be taken seriously, he added, especially considering the risk of overwhelming health systems.

“Just because the individual risk of critical illness may be lower than at the societal level, does not mean Omicron does not pose a real risk,” he said. “Even a small proportion of a relatively large number can be a relatively large number.”

Many Covid-19 infections can look like a cold or the flu. The best way to find out is to get tested, said Dr Sarah Ash Combs, attending physician at Children’s National Hospital.

“Unless you take a test, I would say it’s really hard to tell right now,” Combs said. “We just have to deal with cold symptoms in roughly the same bucket” as Covid-19.

What symptoms to look for

The first signs of colds, flu and Covid-19 tend to be similar, El-Sayed said.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Covid-19 and the flu often cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and vomiting or diarrhea.

Covid-19 infection is distinguished, however, by the headaches and dry cough that often accompany it. The loss of taste and smell that was the biggest warning sign of a Covid-19 infection is still a possible symptom, although it is less common now than it has been with other variations, said El-Sayed.

“For people who have severe chest pain, especially with a dry cough that has gotten worse, this is when you really should see a doctor,” he warned.

The most important factor to consider is exposure.

“If you start to experience any of these symptoms, it is worth asking: has anyone I have been in contact with been infected with Covid? It’s also worth isolating yourself and doing a quick test, ”he advised.

Even if you are not yet experiencing symptoms, it may be best to exercise caution if you have been around someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

“I think it’s worth keeping a strong suspicion that it could be Covid given that we have the Omicron variant which is spreading like wildfire,” El-Sayed added.

At this point, it's safer to treat all cold symptoms carefully, Combs said.

When to test for Covid-19

It is often a good idea to address your suspicions of Covid-19 by getting tested, even if when you do it makes a difference.

If you are experiencing symptoms, now is the time to get tested, El-Sayed said.

For those who have been exposed but are not experiencing symptoms, the virus may not have grown enough to show up on a rapid test, he explained. In these cases, it’s best to wait five days after exposure before testing and stay tuned, according to the CDC.

“Just because you test negative doesn’t mean it doesn’t necessarily have Covid,” El-Sayed said. “The best approach is to test, then maybe retest in 12-24 hours, and if you get two negative results you can be more certain you don’t.”

Whether it’s Covid-19 or the common cold, it’s always been a good idea to isolate yourself while battling a viral illness, he said. It has become even more important with the risk of spread increasing with Covid-19.

What to do if your child starts to sniffle

As we head back to school after winter break, America is at a point where people have to deal with colds and flu symptoms identical to those of Covid-19, Combs said.

When a family comes to their emergency room with a sniffling child with a sore throat and asks what it is, they’re honest: they can’t know for sure without a test, said Combs.

Children suffer from Omicron similarly to adults in that the symptoms are much more widespread and often milder, like a common cold, she said.

Getting your child a flu shot is important for reducing the risk of adding another virus to the mix, Combs said. Children under 5 are still waiting for the approval of the Covid-19 vaccine by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but older children can get the vaccine to reduce the risk of spread and serious illness.

As they return to a school environment, the testing is going to be essential in protecting against epidemics, Combs said.

The latest news on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

“If you’re looking to be really careful, if you watch a kid go back to a school environment to spread to other people, I’d say the only way to find out is to take this test,” Combs said.

The good news is we know how to deal with infections when kids return to school, Combs said. When it is not clear whether your child has been exposed or if their test is still pending, protocols such as masking, disinfection, distancing, and reducing indoor gatherings are still considered effective for reduce the spread, she added.

And be aware that advice may change over time, El-Sayed warned.

“It is changing quickly. We are learning a lot more,” he said. “Omicorn is a variation we’ve only really known about for about a month.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the hospital where Dr. Sarah Ash Combs works. It is the national children’s hospital.


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