Do you have a sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches? It could be a case of a common cold, the flu – or COVID-19.
The symptoms of all diseases are similar, sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish which one is putting you in the weather.
The case rate of COVID-19 has been increasing with the spread of the Omicron variant, but the number of hospitalizations remains relatively low. For vaccinated people, the evidence suggests that this type of infection is less likely to be serious, said Dr. Abdul Al-Saeed, an epidemiologist and former executive director of the Detroit Department of Health.
“The important thing to remember is that a vaccine is like giving your immune system a ‘lookout’ call. So every time we give another boost of vaccine its ability to identify, target and destroy the virus is much greater.” It is,” said al-Sayed. “It makes sense that if you’ve been vaccinated the symptoms you experience are mild.”
However, that doesn’t mean the infection shouldn’t be taken seriously, he said, especially when considering the risks to overwhelming health care systems.
“Just because the per capita risk of serious disease may be low, doesn’t mean that omicron doesn’t pose a real risk at the societal level,” 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 flu. The best way to know is to get tested, said Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, attending physician at Children’s National Hospital.
“Short of getting a test, I would say it’s really hard to differentiate right now,” Combs said. “We just need to treat cold-ish symptoms in the same bucket” as COVID-19.
What symptoms should be observed:
Al-Sayed said that the initial symptoms of cold, flu and COVID-19 are similar.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both COVID-19 and the flu often cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, sore throat, shortness of breath, and vomiting or diarrhea.
However, COVID-19 infection can be recognized by the headache and dry cough that often accompany it. Al-Sayed said loss of taste and smell, which has been the biggest warning sign of COVID-19 infection, is still a possible symptom, although it is now less prevalent than other types.
“For people who are experiencing severe chest pain, especially with a dry cough that has gotten worse, that’s when you really should seek medical help,” he warns.
The most important factor to consider is exposure.
“If you’re starting to feel any of these symptoms, it’s worth asking: Has anyone I’ve come in contact with been infected with COVID? It’s important to isolate and test rapidly. Worth it too,” he advised.
Even if you are not yet feeling symptoms, it may be best to exercise caution if you have been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“I think it’s worth placing a high suspicion that it could be COVID, given that we have the Omicron version of it spreading like wildfire,” Al-Sayed said.
At this point, it’s safest to treat all cold symptoms carefully, Combs said.
When to test for COVID-19:
It’s often good to clear your suspicion of COVID-19 by getting tested, although it does make a difference when you do.
If you’re feeling symptoms, now’s the time to get tested, Al-Sayed said.
For those who have been exposed but are not feeling symptoms, there is a possibility that the virus has not evolved enough to conduct rapid tests, he explained. According to the CDC, in those cases, it’s best to wait and be on the lookout for five days after exposure before testing.
“Just because you get a negative test, doesn’t mean it’s not COVID,” Al-Sayed said. “The best approach is to test and then test again in 12 to 24 hours, and if you get two negatives, you can be more certain that it isn’t.”
He said that whether it is Covid-19 or the common cold, it has always been a good idea to remain isolated while fighting the viral disease. This becomes even more important with the risk of spreading with COVID-19.
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