When you start to have symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, fever, headache, and so on, it is difficult to determine if you have a cold, a flu, or a possible case of coronavirus. Especially with our current situation with the COVID-19, people are now being extra careful when it comes to making self-assessments and deciding whether or not if a visit to the doctor is needed.
Continue reading below to see helpful information about how to distinguish from the three categories and when it is critical to reach out to health care professionals.
What to look for in a common cold?
· Hallmark symptoms:
The common cold is a viral infection that cannot be treated by taking antibiotic medications. The infection happens within the upper respiratory system which results in symptoms such as stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, mild fever, and productive coughs such as making mucus or phlegm.
Since the common cold is a virus, it is also contagious up to 7 days after a person catches the infection. The duration of the common cold is generally about 7 – 14 days in which our body can fight off the viral infection in most cases. Cold medication that you see at the pharmacy is there to help treat the symptoms but are not there to cure the common cold. Doctors are not recommended to give antibiotics to patients with common cold because again, antibiotics are only there to treat a bacterial infection, not the virus.
· Treatment: Try reading our previous post about controlling persistent cough and cold symptoms. There is no vaccine available for the common cold. Normally, drinking a lot of fluids, getting proper rests and taking over the counter (OTC) medications to help with mild symptoms such as Tylenol or Advil are recommended.
What to look for in a coronavirus?
2019 novel coronavirus, also named as COVID-19, is a new strain of the virus that is now known as a viral infection having relation with SARS and MERS. It has an incubation period from 2-14 days; this means, unlike the common cold, the coronavirus has a longer duration in terms of being contagious up to 14 days from person to person transmission, mostly through . From recorded data analysis so far, this virus also lasts anywhere from hours to days depending on the surface.
Wood such as furniture: 4 days
Metal such as doorknobs and silverware: 5 days
Cardboard such as packages: 24 hours
Plastics and Steels: 2 to 3 days
Glass: 5 days
Aerosol: COVID-19 particles were detected up to 3 hours but this was done in a clinically controlled setting and cannot reflect the real-life situation. So far, experts were not able to find any airborne transmission when analyzing 75,465 cases in China.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of May 19 2020, there are 1.61 million confirmed cases with 309K recovered patients. This means having the virus does not always lead to hospitalization and facing the worst-case scenario, especially since not all patients experience the same symptoms.
· Hall Mark Symptoms:
Despite some people being asymptomatic, showing no signs or symptoms from the virus, main symptoms to look for are severe dry coughs, high fever (100.4 °F or above), shortness of breaths, chest pains, and diarrhea. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after the exposure. The organization also listed nine primary signs of this viral infection which includes:
Difficulty Breathing (Hallmark)
Dry coughs (Hallmark)
Repeated shaking with chills
Muscle pain (sometimes)
Sore throat (sometimes)
New loss of taste or smell (sometimes)
Remember, not everyone falls under the severe category since many can recover without hospitalization along with respiratory support such as the use of oxygen and ventilators.
When to seek medical attention?
Per CDC, the following list below are emergency warning signs in which seeking emergency medical care is needed immediately.
Persistent Pain or Pressure in the Chest
Blue colored lips or face
These are not all possible emergency signs. Call your doctor if you feel like you have symptoms that are concerning/severe.
Call 911 or local emergency facility in case of severe warning signs: Notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.
· Treatment: Many cases of COVID-19 patients require good rests, enough fluids and taking medications to help with fever such as Tylenol are recommended. If emergency warning signs are present, then a medical attention is needed along with respiratory support. Currently, there are on-going research for vaccines but it is not available at the moment.
What to look for in a flu?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is also a viral infection of the upper or lower respiratory system. This viral infection is normally contagious up to 4 days from the day when the person got infected and it can last anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks depending on the severity of the situation.
· Hall Mark Symptoms:
Well known signs and symptoms for flu include mild fever, headaches, dry coughs, feeling weakness, and body aches.
Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor may prescribe antiviral medications, a popular one being called Tamiflu (oseltamivir) which is beneficial if the medication is taken within 48 hours of symptom onset. Tamiflu, along with proper rests and enough fluids can help to reduce flu symptoms.
· Prevention is the Key:
Because flu can lead to more complicated illnesses such as pneumonia (read about our pneumonia post in previous blogs for more information), people are strongly recommended to get an annual flu vaccine for a preventive method. According to CDC, flu season in the United States typically starts around fall. It is not recommended to vaccinate too early, July – August, because this may lead to reduced protection especially for the elderly populations.
Flu vaccine is recommended for everyone (kids, elderlies, and pregnant women) even for children as young as 6 months old. Typically, children in 6 months through 8 years of age will require 2 doses separated by a minimum of 4 weeks. Your health care provider will give you more details on the schedule of the flu vaccine for children.
o People who should not get the flu shot according to CDC
- Children younger than 6 months old
- People with severe, life threatening allergic reaction to vaccine ingredients such as true egg allergy. Talk to your health care provider for alternative vaccines available.
- If you ever experienced Guillain-Barré Syndrome also known as severe paralyzing illness.
All three viral infections mentioned above do not qualify for antibiotics; however, depending on the situation, patients could develop secondary bacterial infection in which antibiotics could be needed. This decision will be made by your primary care provider.
** This is not the full list of symptom differences and you should contact your health care provider if there is a suspicion of severe symptoms.
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