How do you know if you have a cold, flu or COVID-19 according to experts

Do you have a sore throat, runny nose and muscle aches? It could be a common cold, a case of the flu – or COVID-19.

The diseases all have similar symptoms, which sometimes makes it difficult to distinguish what makes you breathless.

Case rates on COVID-19 has been rising as Omicron variant has spread, but the number of admissions seems to remain relatively low.
Covid 19 coronavirus test queue Sydney
Health workers perform COVID-19 tests at Bondi Beach Clinic. (Getty)

For vaccinated people, evidence suggests that infection with this variant seems less likely to be serious, said epidemiologist and former Detroit Health Department CEO Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.

The important thing to remember is that a vaccine is like giving a ‘be on the lookout’ call to your immune system. So its capacity to identify, target and destroy viruses is so much higher every time we take another boost of the vaccine . ” said Dr. El-Sayed.

“It makes sense that the symptoms you would experience are milder if you have been vaccinated.”

That does not mean, however, that infections should not be taken seriously, he added, especially when considering the risk of overwhelming health systems.

An exhibit sign advises the public on the requirements for face masks.

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“Just because the individual risk of serious illness may be lower does not mean on a societal level that Omicron does not pose a real risk,” he said.

“Even a small part of a relatively large number can be a relatively large number.”

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

“If I do not get a test, I will say that it is really difficult to distinguish right now,” said Dr. Combs.

“We just need to treat cold symptoms in pretty much the same bucket (like COVID-19).”

What symptoms to look for

Early signs of colds, flu and COVID-19 tend to be similar, Drs. El-Sayed.

Both COVID-19 and influenza often cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath and vomiting or diarrhea, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nurse Shirley Molloy prepares to swap a patient for COVID-19 at a drive-through clinic. (AAP Image / Dan Peled)

However, COVID-19 infection can be recognized by headaches and dry coughs that often accompany.

The loss of taste and smell that has been the biggest warning sign of a COVID-19 infection is still a possible symptom, although it is less prevalent now than it has been with other variants, said Dr. El-Sayed.

“For people who feel severe chest pain, especially with a dry cough that has gotten worse, this is when you really should seek medical attention,” he said.

The most important factor to consider is exposure.

“If you’re starting to notice any of these symptoms, it’s worth asking: Has anyone I’ve come in contact with been infected with COVID-19? It’s also worth isolating and taking a quick test,” he said. he.

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Even if you do not notice symptoms yet, it may be best to exercise caution if you have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“I think it’s worth having a high suspicion that it may be COVID-19, given that the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire,” said Dr. El-Sayed.

When to test for COVID-19

It is often a good idea to address your suspicion of COVID-19 by taking a test, though it does make a difference when you do.

If you are feeling symptoms, now is the time to take a test, said Dr. El-Sayed.

For those who have been exposed but do not feel symptoms, there is a possibility that the virus has not developed enough to show up on a quick test, he explained.

In these cases, it is best to wait five days after exposure before testing and stay on the lookout, according to the CDC.

A COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test Kit
People are advised to test for the virus five days after exposure to it. (Flavio Brancaleone)

“Just because you get a negative test, does not necessarily mean it is not COVID-19,” said Dr. El-Sayed.

“The best approach is to test and then maybe test again in 12 to 24 hours, and if you get two negatives, you can be more sure it’s not.”

Whether it is COVID-19 or the common cold, it has always been a good idea to isolate oneself while fighting a viral disease, he said.

It has become even more important as the risk of spread is increasing with COVID-19.

What to do if your child starts sniffing

Looking forward to returning to school after the winter break, the United States is at a time when people need to treat cold or flu symptoms in the same way as COVID-19, said Dr. Combs.

When a family comes into her emergency room with a child who has snuff and sore throat and asks what it is, she is honest: she can not know for sure without a test, said Dr. Combs.

Children experience Omicron much the same way adults do because the symptoms are much more extensive and often milder, like a cold, she said.

Pediatric vaccine patch
Combs advises children to get flu shot. (Getty Images / iStockphoto)

It is important to get a flu shot for your child to reduce the chance of adding another virus to the mix, said Dr. Combs.

Children under the age of five are still awaiting vaccine approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, but the elderly can be vaccinated to reduce the risk of spreading and serious illness.

When they return to a school environment, testing will be crucial to protect against outbreaks, Dr. Combs.

“If you want to be really careful, if you’re watching a child who goes back to a school environment is spreading to other people, I would say the only way to know that is to take that test,” said Dr. Combs.

The good news is that we know how to deal with infections when children return to school, said Dr. Combs.

Revelers gather for the winter solstice at Stonehenge

When it is not clear whether your child was exposed or whether their testing is still pending, protocols such as masking, disinfecting, distancing and reducing indoor assemblies are still believed to be effective in reducing spread, she added.

And knowing that advice can evolve as time goes on, Dr. warned. El-Sayed.

“It’s changing fast. We’re learning a lot more,” he said.

“Omicron is a variant we’re really only known for about a month.”

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