COVID-19 symptoms are much like cold and flu

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s understanding of the virus continues to evolve, the organization’s symptom list has grown to include nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of the novel coronavirus are now: fever, chills, sore throat, cough, new onset of shortness of breath, new onset of loss of taste and smell, new onset of muscle pain, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.

As anyone who has ever suffered through allergies, a common cold or a flu can tell you, some of those conditions share traits with COVID-19.

So how can you tell whether you’re suffering from allergies or just getting sick with a cold — or carrying the virus that is part of a pandemic?

No. 1, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), symptoms of the virus do not normally match up exactly with those of a common cold. With COVID-19, aches and pains, fever and a dry cough are most prominent.

Allergies vs. COVID-19

In regard to allergies, while they can cause a cough, they do not cause a fever or a sore throat.

And COVID-19 is not connected with the itchy eyes, itchy nose and sneezing typically associated with allergies.

“It’s very important that every single person on the planet knows what signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are,” says Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious diseases epidemiologist with the WHO. “The symptoms of COVID-19 are not sneezing and having a runny nose.”

Colds vs COVID-19

Differentiating among a cold, allergies, influenza and COVID-19 is important for everyday people. It’s also vital for clinicians trying to manage the spread of the virus.

“The initial symptoms can be very similar with a fever, a cough and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford Health chief medical officer, during a live Facebook question-and-answer session on March 15. “That’s where things start to differentiate. The difference with influenza is that we have a vaccine. We also have treatment — Tamiflu can be helpful, depending on the year.”

Watch video: Facebook Live Q&A with Sanford Health

The potential severity of the illness is also increased with COVID-19 in comparison to influenza. In this case it means within high-risk populations, COVID-19 can be very concerning.

Flu vs COVID-19

“It can be hard to tell as a clinician, if you’re dealing with a patient with influenza or the coronavirus,” says Dr. Suttle. “Oftentimes we will rule out influenza — it’s a quick test we can do right away at the clinic.”

Typically, after crossing off influenza, a clinician will begin asking specific questions pertaining to the coronavirus in order to decide whether a COVID-19 test is necessary.

To be tested for COVID-19, patients must meet high risk criteria and have a physician order. High risk criteria as defined by the CDC are:

  • Active lower respiratory symptoms — fever, chills, sore throat, cough, or
  • New symptoms of shortness of breath, headaches, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat or
  • Exposure to anyone with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 test

What to do if you have COVID-19 symptoms

After reviewing COVID-19 symptoms, if you suspect you may have contracted the virus, you have the following options available through Sanford Health:

  1. Call your provider or clinic.
  2. Make an appointment or do an e-visit.
  3. If you have shortness of breath or another emergency, call 911.