How do I know if I have a cold, flu or COVID-19?
Experts say testing is the best way to determine what you have, as symptoms of the diseases can overlap.
The viruses that cause colds, flu and COVID-19 are spread in the same way – through drops from the nose and mouth of infected people. And they can all be spread before a person realizes they are infected.
The timing of when a person with any of the diseases will begin to feel ill varies. Some people who are infected with coronavirus do not experience any symptoms, but it is still possible for them to spread it.
Cough, fever, fatigue and muscle aches are common to both influenza and COVID-19, says Kristen Coleman, an assistant research professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Symptoms specific for COVID-19 include loss of taste or odor.
Common cold, meanwhile, tends to be milder with symptoms, including a stuffy nose and sore throat. Fever is more common with the flu.
Video: The doctor explains how to distinguish flu from COVID-19
Despite some fake depictions online, viruses have not merged to create a new disease. But it is possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, as some call “flurona.”
“A co-infection of any kind can be serious or worsen your symptoms completely,” Coleman says. “If influenza cases continue to rise, we can expect to see more of these types of viral co-infections in the coming weeks or months.”
With many similar symptoms caused by the three virus types, testing remains the best option to determine which one you may have. Home tests for influenza are not as widely available as those for COVID-19, but some pharmacies offer tests for both viruses at the same time, Coleman notes. This can help doctors prescribe the right treatment.
Laboratories may also be able to screen samples for various respiratory viruses, including common cold viruses. But most do not have the capacity to routinely do this, especially during a COVID-19 increase, Coleman says.
Getting vaccinated helps reduce the spread of viruses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s safe to get a flu and COVID-19 shot or booster at the same time.
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