It can be difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and a more serious infection such as the flu or COVID-19. How can you tell the difference?
Viruses: "tiny but mighty adversaries"!
Viruses―although they are as old as time, some of them still manage to surprise us, threaten us, and greatly disrupt our daily lives! The pandemic we are currently experiencing makes us realize just how vulnerable we are to these microscopic but very real microbes, which can be unpredictable and sometimes devastating.
Let's face it, the appearance of COVID-19, caused by a virus belonging to the Coronaviridae family (coronavirus), has presented us with a major challenge. Most countries around the world are engaged in a real fight against the variants of coronavirus. When it comes to victims, viruses often don't discriminate! The coronavirus is an example of a highly contagious virus, which explains the high number of cases on the planet.
When you're sick, it can sometimes be difficult to determine the cause of your discomfort, especially when it comes to viral infections. Here is some insight into this issue.
The flu… or COVID-19?
The flu is probably the easiest viral infection to confuse with COVID-19, as the two diseases have several symptoms in common. Cough, fever and fatigue are examples of typical symptoms of both types of infection. Other possible symptoms include muscle aches and pains.
Pneumonia is a good example of a common complication of influenza and COVID-19. It is a more serious infection that may require medical attention and sometimes hospitalization. In the worst cases, a stay in the intensive care unit is necessary. All the prevention measures put in place during the pandemic are aimed at reducing the risk of complications from COVID-19. The influenza immunization campaign is also carried out every year in the fall to prevent complications.
Although anyone can get complications from COVID-19 or the flu, some people are more susceptible. This is especially true for the elderly and those with a weakened immune system.
A cold… or COVID-19?
In general, the common cold can be said to be a milder infection compared to the flu or COVID-19. However, its most common symptoms, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and sore throat, can also resemble those of COVID-19. Therefore, many people may mistake COVID-19 for a common cold.
A cold can sometimes cause very unpleasant symptoms and even lead to complications such as sinusitis or ear infections. For people living with asthma, a cold can lead to worsening symptoms.
There is currently no effective vaccine to prevent the common cold. However, there are vaccines that can protect against the flu and COVID-19. Vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect yourself against these infections. Ask your pharmacist about vaccination services.
Gastroenteritis… or COVID-19?
One might think that gastroenteritis is unrelated to COVID-19, since it primarily affects the gastrointestinal system and not the respiratory system. Yet, these two viral infections can cause similar symptoms.
Although less common, some people with COVID-19 may experience nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps or diarrhea. If you experience these symptoms, it is best to consider that it could be COVID-19.
Stay alert for signs and symptoms of dehydration and take steps to prevent it, as it is the most common complication of gastroenteritis. If left untreated, dehydration can be dangerous, especially for some of the more vulnerable, such as babies, young children, the elderly or those living with certain chronic diseases.
The importance of rapid tests
So, how do you distinguish COVID-19 from the flu, the common cold or even gastroenteritis? Unfortunately, you cannot diagnose it yourself just by looking at the signs and symptoms, because there are too many similarities between the manifestations of these different types of viral infections.
Fortunately, there are rapid tests that can be done at home to screen for COVID-19. If you have symptoms, use a rapid test as soon as possible to find out whether or not it is COVID-19. These tests are readily available in pharmacies. You have to go to the pharmacy area to get them.
If you are ill, it is best not to go to the pharmacy yourself to avoid contaminating others. You can then take advantage of the pharmacy's delivery service. It is probably a good idea to plan ahead and get rapid tests in advance, before you have symptoms or have been in contact with someone who is infected.
If you test positive on a rapid test, or if you have been in contact with an infected person, be sure to follow the recommendations and restrictions of your local public health authority (quarantine or isolation measures).
Prevention of viral infections
Regardless of the type of infection, prevention is a protective measure for everyone, but especially for more vulnerable people. It is worthwhile to practise them!
Here are some examples of measures that can protect you and help protect others.
- Stay home when you know you are infected or have signs or symptoms.
- Follow the local public health authority guidelines for quarantine and isolation measures.
- Maintain a minimum two-metre distance from other people
- Wash your hands often.
- Wear a face covering in public places, on public transit and in places where physical distancing is not possible.
- Follow respiratory etiquette (sneeze and cough into a face covering or the crook of your elbow).
- Avoid all contact with infected (or possibly infected) people.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about viral infections and the ways to prevent them.