Flu, Cold or COVID-19?

With COVID-19 and flu season upon us, many people are wondering what to do if they come down with symptoms of an illness. More to the point, how can they tell if their symptoms are of the flu, COVID-19 or just a common cold?

“There are a lot of similarities, which is one of the big problems we’re going to face this flu season,” explains Jeff Erdner, DO, a physician and chief operating officer of The Emergency Center, which has vast experience diagnosing and treating both flu and COVID-19.

There are several potential symptoms the illnesses all share:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Congestion/runny nose
  • Shortness of breath

“These are some of the most common cold symptoms,” says Dr. Erdner, “but unfortunately, they also are similar to what we see with both flu and COVID-19.”

Splitting the Hairs

As illnesses go, flu is highly contagious. COVID-19 is even more so. However, people exposed to the flu develop symptoms within one to four days, whereas people exposed to COVID-19 develop symptoms anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure.

For patients and care providers, though, there are some symptoms that are more indicative of COVID-19 than flu or cold.

“Probably the best differentiator is that in COVID, we’re seeing a lot of people with a loss of sense of smell or taste. It’s far from a perfect indicator since many COVID patients don’t have this symptom, but loss of smell or taste isn’t something you see with the flu,” says Dr. Erdner.

Testing is required to determine, with confidence, what the culprit is. Based on symptoms and health status, Dr. Erdner says patients coming to The Emergency Center for care may receive one or more tests:

  • Flu assay (results in 15 minutes)
  • Rapid COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibody tests (results in 15 minutes)
  • COMING SOON: Rapid COVID-19 PCR testing (results in 30 minutes)

Seeking Care Even if There Is No Cure

The vast majority of people who come down with either flu or COVID-19 are going to recover. This is particularly true for those who are young and healthy. Although there are certain symptoms that should cause any patient to seek care.

“The main issue people need to watch out for is shortness of breath or chest pain. That’s when it’s important to get evaluated because that’s when people start going downhill with both flu and COVID,” advises Dr. Erdner.

Additionally, patients with diarrhea and vomiting should get checked out as these symptoms can cause dehydration. Also, patients with a high fever that won’t come down or who have any symptom that concerns them shouldn’t hesitate to get evaluated. Getting the right diagnosis and care is crucial because although there is no cure for flu or COVID-19 (or the common cold), there are options to alleviate symptoms and help prevent worsening of the illness.

“It’s easier to treat and mitigate symptoms when we catch them early,” reminds Dr. Erdner. “Waiting can lead to additional problems or worsening of a condition.”

For instance, both flu and COVID-19 can lead to pneumonia. The Emergency Center has prescription medications and treatments that may help keep patients from going down this unwanted path. Some people may be afraid to seek care because they are concerned about COVID-19 exposure in a healthcare setting. The Emergency Center has enhanced processes in place to prevent the spread of any virus, including COVID-19, ensuring patient safety.

“The last thing we want is people sitting at home getting worse and worse when we could be providing them with care to alleviate some of their symptoms and prevent bad outcomes,” says Dr. Erdner. “Just because there is no cure doesn’t mean there is no reason to seek treatment.”
The Emergency Center Logo

The Emergency Center

San Antonio
11320 Alamo Ranch Pkwy
San Antonio, TX 78253

Phone: 210-485-3644