Coronavirus symptoms: Is it the flu, a common cold or COVID-19? How to tell the difference

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The colder months are notorious for higher numbers of infections, including the common cold and flu. This year, coronavirus has joined the stakes – putting people’s health on the line.

“All of these infections involve a cough, sore throat, fatigue, aches and pains,” said Dr Stephanie Colbourn.

The GP based at Portland Medical Centre in South Norwood, Croydon, continued: “The key to telling the difference between them is by which symptoms are predominating.”

Bear in mind that booking a free NHS coronavirus test is essential if you have one of the following symptoms outlined by the NHS.

A high temperature
This means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (a thermometer isn’t needed)

A new, continuous cough
This means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.

If you already suffer from a chronic cough, then you’d have noticed it’s got worse than usual.

A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
This means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different from normal

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The NHS assured: “Most people with coronavirus have at least one of these symptoms.”

Do remember to self-isolate at home until you get the results of the COVID-19 test, and to follow the rules if you come back with a positive result.

The common cold
There are over 200 different viruses known to cause the common cold, said the healthcare website Patient.

Apparently, most belong to the rhinovirus family, and signs of infection will mostly go away on their own within a week or so.

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Symptoms of the common cold tend to stay in the upper airways, meaning you’re most likely to suffer from the following:

  • Blocked nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat

There may be a sense of feeling run down, but most people will probably feel okay.

Other symptoms can include pains, aches and fatigue. Over-the-counter remedies can be taken to relieve bothersome symptoms.

The flu
Also known as influenza, this type of infection can be more dangerous to vulnerable individuals.

This is because the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia which may need treatment in hospital if symptoms are severe.

Caused by various influenza viruses, it can affect both the upper and lower respiratory system.

Symptoms tend to persist for up to two weeks, and fatigue can linger following the infection.

Dr Colbourn elaborated: “The flu tends to cause more whole-body symptoms.”

The NHS explained flu symptoms “come on very quickly” and can include the following:

  • A sudden high temperature of 38C or above
  • An aching body
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • A dry cough
  • A sore throat
  • A headache
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • Feeling sick and being sick

Treatment includes drinking plenty of water, taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, keep warm, rest and sleep.

More people are eligible for the flu vaccine this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Astra-Zeneca coronavirus vaccine is to be rolled out on Monday, January 4, the hope is that fewer people will have an adverse reaction to the virus.

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