The Flu Vs COVID-19: Which Is Which?

How to tell if your symptoms mean you’ve caught the novel coronavirus

Ishani Nandi Updated: Mar 13, 2020 13:54:10 IST
The Flu Vs COVID-19: Which Is Which?

With the novel coronavirus spreading across the world, governments and administrations are being compelled to take major steps to control this deadly outbreak. According to Anthony Fauci, director at the US-based National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a cure is still at least a year away and prevention remains the best form of containment.

COVID-19 has a troublesome prognosis and its wildfire spread can perhaps be attributed to the fact that for a large majority, symptoms of this disease are no different from the common cold or seasonal flu. Lack of recognition of the right signs mean necessary precautions, tests and treatments are not done in time. But, a few key criteria can help identify when to seek medical intervention for COVID-19.

Here’s how to tell the two apart:

“Conditions such as seasonal flu and the common cold affect a large number of people in a common geographical area and testing can help isolate and identify known flu viruses, after which treatment, such as the use of antivirals for swine flu cases, can be administered where needed,” says Dr Sandeep Budhiraja, group medical director, internal medicine, Max Healthcare, New Delhi.

“Typically symptoms of the flu involve sneezing and a blocked or runny nose, which do not occur so much in the case of COVID-19. Symptoms persist for a short period—around 3 to 5 days—and usually resolve themselves on their own or with simple home remedies and OTC medication. The novel coronavirus, however, is marked by a fever of 100ºF or above, dry cough and, most importantly, shortness of breath—a warning sign that the lungs are under attack.”

Among those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the elderly, anyone with a pre-existing condition that lowers immunity—diabetes, heart disease, kidney ailments—or people who are on immunity-suppressing medication are at risk of the disease taking on a more serious form that requires intensive care.

Certain other parameters indicate a high risk factor for contracting the novel coronavirus. These are:

  • Those who have travelled in the past two weeks, either domestic or international, from places where there the novel coronavirus has spread widely (see the CDC list here). If this is the case, patients should self-quarantine for a minimum of two-weeks. If no symptoms arise or existing ones dissipate, then no further steps are required, else seek medical aid.
  • If you have not travelled anywhere but have come in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus or has recently travelled from regions with high COVID-19 cases.
  • If you are a healthcare industry worker or have visited a hospital or medical facility where coronavirus cases are being treated/admitted.

“Currently, testing for COVID-19 is restricted to certain hospitals in major cities. In Delhi, for example, only Ram Manohar Lohia, All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Safdarjung Hospital are equipped with the correct isolation wards and testing facilities for coronavirus as of now. With parameters and cautionary guidelines changing over time, new developments occur as researchers learn more, you need to keep yourself informed from credible sources and stay safe,” Budhiraja suggests.

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