As the flu and common cold get ready to do their usual seasonal damage, now, every single cough and sniffle will carry an extra worry…is it COVID-19?
As the temps drop, many folks will be confused by the flu, common cold, and COVID-19. Medical experts unanimously agree about one thing, you should not self-diagnose!
What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19?
Both the flu and COVID-19 are highly contagious respiratory conditions caused by different viruses. The flu is brought on by influenza viruses – usually Influenza A or Influenza B. There are a few influenza viruses and flu vaccines that have been around since the mid-40s. Each year, specific flu vaccines are recommended to fight the strains of influenza that research indicates will be the most common for a particular season. So, when you visit your medical provider for your annual flu vaccine appointment, you will receive the most recommended vaccine for the ’21-’22 flu season.
COVID-19 and the flu can cause similar symptoms. The illnesses can also run the gamut from mild to severe symptoms. Because of the similarities, it can be hard to diagnose which condition you have based on symptoms alone. Testing should be done to determine if you have COVID-19 or the flu. While COVID-19 symptoms can develop as early as two days after you’re infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says five days after infection is typical.
The flu comes on suddenly. Usually, flu symptoms appear anywhere from one to four days after infection. The symptoms that typically accompany the flu are fever, chills, headache, cough, body aches, fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea.
COVID-19 can cause more serious illnesses in some people than the flu.
COVID-19 is caused by an infection with the virus called SARS-CoV-2. It usually spreads between people who are in close contact (within 6 feet). The virus spreads through respiratory droplets released when someone breathes, coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings. It is a new or novel virus that humans have not experienced before the pandemic. Since the virus is new, our bodies haven’t had the opportunity to build antibodies to fight it.
The virus can also spread if a person touches a surface or object with the virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes, although this isn’t considered the more common way of spreading. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, muscle aches, fatigue, and severe breathing issues. In very severe cases, organ failure is also possible. But there are many other possible signs and symptoms like the loss of taste, smell, and even blood clots.
Can the flu turn into COVID-19? No! And COVID-19 cannot turn into the flu. Again, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses.
Is it possible to have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time? Yes! It is possible to be infected with the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
Do vaccinated folks experience different COVID-19 symptoms?
Professor Tim Spector, OBE, FMedSci is a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and leads the UK’s famous ZOE COVID Symptom Study, which has been running since March 2020 and has 4 million daily contributors. There’s a gap appearing between symptoms of COVID-19 among people who have been vaccinated – and those who haven’t. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 among those who have been vaccinated are currently runny nose, headache, sneezing, sore throat, and loss of smell. While for those who are unvaccinated, it’s headache, runny nose, sore throat, fever, and persistent dry cough.
“Our data show that loss of smell or loss of taste is still one of the most important predictors of testing positive for COVID-19 rather than a regular cold, so it’s an important symptom to look out for, whether you’ve been vaccinated or not,” says Professor Spector.
What about the common cold vs. COVID-19?
The common cold differs from the flu and COVID-19 in that a cough will usually produce phlegm or mucus. The flu or COVID-19 cough is typically unproductive (no phlegm or mucus) and persistent unless there is an underlying lung condition that generally makes you cough up phlegm or mucus.
Extreme anything is uncommon when experiencing a cold—fever, muscle aches, lethargy. Other cold symptoms can include a tickly throat, runny or stuffy nose, and sneezing. An if there’s a fever, it is not high.
The bottom line
According to Professor Spector, “It’s a lot easier to work from home for a couple of days if you’re feeling under the weather, without spreading it around, and get yourself a test. If you do have a cold, think, ‘It could be COVID’, and keep your distance until you know whether it is