- Coronovirus outbreaks are likely to be overlapping this fall and winter with seasonal flu and the common cold.
- Mild coronavirus cases may also be confused with allergies.
- One trick to differentiate these diseases is to look for their earliest common symptom: the coronavirus virus, for example, often develops fever before coughing.
- Loss of taste and smell is also a coronavirus hallmark.
- Typically, coronaviruses and the common cold develop more slowly than allergies or flu.
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Is it COVID-19 or just a cold?
This is a question many Americans will likely ask themselves in the fall and winter, as coronovirus infections overlap with common cold and seasonal flu cases. Symptoms can be difficult to distinguish, given that coughing can occur in all three conditions.
But there are signs of each disease.
A recent study at the University of Southern California identified a different order of symptoms among COVID-19 patients: most symptomatic patients start with fever, followed by cough. For seasonal influenza, it is usually the opposite – people usually develop a cough before a fever.
If you get a common cold, meanwhile, it is more likely to start with a sore throat as the first symptom, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s how to distinguish novel coronaviruses from seasonal flu, allergies, and the common cold.
These symptoms are listed for each disease and the order in which they arrive is not foolproof, however: some COVID-19 patients do not have fever and some flu patients never come with a cough.
Therefore it is also useful to consider how soon the symptoms appear and how long they last.
How COVID-19, flu, cold, and allergies manifest and progress
Coronavirus cases develop more slowly than flu. While some people develop COVID-19 symptoms within two days of becoming infected, it can take up to two weeks for the symptoms to appear. On average, people start feeling ill five days after being infected.
On the other hand, people suffering from the flu usually feel ill one to four days after exposure. Most patients then fully recover within less than two weeks, often in a few days.
Some coronovirus patients can recover within two weeks, but a growing portion of patients show symptoms for several months.
Symptoms of the common cold, by contrast, usually reach their peak within two to three days of infection – but, like coronaviruses, they often occur slowly. And some symptoms last longer than others: patients with a common cold may have a sore throat for eight days, a headache for nine to 10 days, and congestion for more than two weeks, a nose. Can be runny or cough.
The allergy lasts a long time – about two to three weeks for the allergen – and will not resolve until the allergen leaves the air. Seasonal allergies also become more severe in spring.
The most common symptoms of each disease
Coronavirus cases run the gamut from asymptomatic to mild to severe.
“I haven’t seen an infection with such expressions,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in July.
Some patients have also reported conditions that do not appear on the CDC list, such as hair loss, hiccups and purple, swollen toes.
According to a June study by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and King’s College London, many COVID-19 patients lack taste or smell – which may be the strongest predictors of COVID-19 infection. A Spanish case study found that around 40% of patients with COVID-19 developed odor and / or taste disorders, while the number of flu patients was only 12%.
Symptoms such as fever or headache can also prevent allergies or the common cold.
People with cold, meanwhile, are more likely to develop a runny or stuffy nose than COVID-19 patients. And the symptoms of cold are mild overall.
But one recognition of allergies – itchy eyes – is not associated with any of the other three diseases.
Ultimately, the best way to know if you have COVID-19 is to take a diagnostic test. Those who have not been tested should stay home, if they are feeling ill or if they are suffering from the virus.
Everyone should get a flu pill to reduce the possibility of congestion in hospitals as they treat both flu and COVID-19 patients.
“This will be the most important flu season of our lifetime, in my opinion,” US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said at a Senate hearing on Wednesday. “Less flu and fewer hospitalizations will help conserve valuable health resources.”