As we head into fall and winter, the weather cools down and we gather with friends and family indoors. We look forward to the warmth of lit fireplaces and friendly faces.
The close quarters and chilly air also makes it easier for viruses to spread from person to person. And this flu season, there’s more than just the flu going around. Other respiratory viruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, also spread more easily in the colder months.
Your first step toward protection is to get your flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccines help your immune system recognize a virus so it can mount a strong attack if you get exposed to the virus.
But if you do come down with something, how do you know whether it’s the flu or COVID-19?
Flu and COVID-19 symptoms
The signs and symptoms for COVID-19 and flu are very similar, which makes it hard to tell which one you might have. Both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory illnesses, which means they affect your lungs and breathing. You can also have symptoms that aren’t limited to your respiratory system
Common symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 include:
- Aching body/muscles
- Change in/loss of smell or taste (more common with COVID-19)
- Runny/stuffy nose
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
Because the signs are so similar, you can’t determine which illness you have by symptoms alone. It’s also possible to have both flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
If you have any emergency or life-threatening symptoms, go to the ER or call 911 right away.
Get tested to be sure
The only way to confirm if you have flu or COVID-19 is to get tested. Contact your primary care provider to request a test for flu and/or COVID-19 as soon as you suspect you are sick or have symptoms. There are medicines, such as antivirals, that your provider can give you to help. However, they must be given early on in your sickness to be effective.
One of the most common types of flu tests is a rapid antigen test. It can detect flu antigens that help your body create an immune response. A flu test for antigens can tell you if you’re currently infected with the flu. To conduct the test, a health care professional will swab your nose or throat.
There are two types of COVID-19 tests available. Just like for flu, antigen COVID-19 tests check for COVID-19 antigens used in an immune response when you’re infected with the virus. A PCR test uses a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect a genetic trace of the virus. For either test, a healthcare professional will insert a long nasal swab into your nostril to get a sample of fluid at the back of your nose.
Your results could be available from within a few minutes up to a couple days. This depends on the type of test your provider orders and current lab processing times. If you have flu or COVID-19, your healthcare provider can offer care to help relieve your symptoms and bolster your health.
If you’re feeling sick with any of the symptoms listed above or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, contact your primary care provider to request a test.