While we’re on the subject of staying healthy through the winter, let’s start today’s discussion with some good news: In the Southern hemisphere, flu season is ending. And you know what? Turns out, there was hardly even a flu season at all.
Scientists consider this a silver lining of the pandemic life that we’ve all become accustomed to in 2020—one where social distancing, working from home, and mask wearing are commonplace. So here’s to hoping all of us in the Northern hemisphere will have the same luck.
Either way, this cold and flu season promises to be quite different from the rest. And this year more than ever, it’s important to know exactly what to look out for…
Specific symptoms that set coronavirus apart
Before 2020, if you got a cough or a sore throat, you’d probably just assume it was a cold—maybe even the flu, if a fever followed. This year? Well, the tides have turned.
Nowadays, it’s vitally important to be able to distinguish between ordinary viruses and COVID-19. Because compared to what we’re used to dealing with, the novel coronavirus carries a particularly high rate of severe complications, while being every bit as (if not more) contagious.
The trouble is, less dangerous respiratory illnesses share a lot of the same symptoms with COVID-19—like fever, chills, cough, fatigue, sore throat, body aches, and headaches. So even “experts” can have a hard time telling the difference.
But there are three key indicators that could point you more definitively to COVID-19:
1.) Loss of taste and smell. Generally, we don’t see these symptoms with other viruses. Yes, a cold can blunt your sense of taste and smell, especially if your nose is stuffed up. But so far, healthcare workers on the front line are seeing more rapid and dramatic losses of taste and smell with COVID-19.
2.) Chest pressure or pain, or severe headaches. COVID-19 has a unique impact on the blood vessels and can cause blood clots. So in addition to the more common symptoms listed above, you might also feel symptoms like chest pressure or pain, or a severe headache.
3.) Length of illness exceeds seven to 10 days. Most cold and flu symptoms will go away within a week to 10 days. Coronavirus symptoms, on the other hand, have been reported in some cases to linger for much longer. (During which you can potentially expose that many more people.)
Better safe than spreading
Of course, you have fall allergy season throwing a wrench into things, too. Allergies also share some common traits with COVID-19—like coughing, shortness of breath, a headache, congestion, and fatigue.
If you’ve had fall allergies before, you’re likely expecting these symptoms already. But it’s important to remember that allergies don’t cause a fever and chills… and COVID-19 doesn’t cause itchy, watery eyes.
At the end of the day, though, making any assumptions about the cause of your symptoms this year is risky. In the past, perhaps you decided to wait it out. But this year, even for mild symptoms, I think the safest thing to do—if you’re at all uncertain—is to get a COVID-19 test.
Luckily, they’re more widely available now than they were when all of this started. So have your doctor on speed dial. (Is that even a thing anymore?!) And keep your local health department’s number handy, too.
They will be able to tell you where to get a test. (Plus, a lot of pharmacies and urgent care centers are offering them now—and there are a number of drive-up test centers out there, too.)
And please, while you wait for the results, take all the same precautions you would if you tested positive.
Stay at home—away from offices, stores, and any other public places—and distance yourself from other people (even family members who live in the same house) until your doctor gives you the all clear.
Sure, it’s inconvenient. But even if you survive a COVID-19 infection, the person you spread it to may not. So do the right thing now… and eventually, we’ll all live to see the day when this pandemic is safely behind us.
“Is It a Cold, the Flu, Allergies, or COVID-19?” WebMD, 11/02/2020. (webmd.com/lung/news/20201102/is-it-a-cold-the-flu-allergies-or-covid-19)