COVID Or Flu Or Sinus? Oh My!

Let me set the stage.
You go to bed feeling fine and the next morning you awaken to a cough and a bit of headache.  The coffee lacks the usual wonderful aroma as it brews and you find you are dragging.
So you ask yourself – what is this? Is it COVID? Sinus? Allergies? A cold? The flu?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), some or all of these symptoms apply to each of these health issues.
Take Sinusitis. Symptoms can include headache and loss of smell but is generally accompanied by congestion, nasal drip and facial pressure.
Both allergies and the common cold can cause fatigue, weakness, sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose and a sore throat.
Whereas allergies are not contagious, the cold viruses are. A cold can be contagious for up to two days before the symptoms start and can last up to two weeks.
COVID and the flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. You cannot tell the difference between the two just by looking at symptoms because the illnesses have some of the same symptoms: fever or feeling feverish, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue or tiredness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches and headache.
Not everyone who has COVID has all the symptoms or who has the flu has a fever.
COVID has additional concerns; it spreads more easily than the flu and can cause more serious illness in some people, especially older adults, people, including infants and children, who have certain underlying medical conditions, and people who are pregnant.
 It can take longer for people to show symptoms and can remain contagious for a longer time. Serious cases can result in hospitalization and death – even in healthy people – and can cause long term conditions.
Taking an at-home test can identify whether or not symptoms that appear to be COVID, are COVID.
In a previous article I had mentioned how my brother, who had flown in from Florida, brought not only his luggage but a slight case of congestion that gradually worsened through the day. He was sure the symptoms were allergy and sinus related, and the accompanying fatigue he attributed to pre-travel stress and having been up since four that morning.
Although he felt he was ok – no fever, no loss of taste or smell, no cough – when we explained that symptoms of the newer variants often mimicked those of allergy and sinus – he agreed to be tested.
He tested negative. No COVID. Case closed?
Well, not exactly.
Symptoms do not always a COVID infection make.
A few weeks ago a friend told us how his “neighbor” stopped in for a visit. I put “neighbor” in quotes because both men live alone in predominantly rural areas, the neighbor’s area being the more isolated. His social contacts were minimum, if any, and he spent a lot of time working outdoors. He had no COVID symptoms that afternoon when the two got together: however, it is not uncommon for our friend to request visitors to test before entering his house.

My friend tests regularly, not only for his own protection, but to prevent infecting family and friends who are older or have underlying health conditions, or both. For these reasons, he suggested both he and his neighbor take a COVID test.
My friend tested negative, but much to his surprise, the neighbor tested positive.
The moral of this story?
A  COVID infection can be deceptive –  many cases are asymptomatic, that is, having no symptoms.  In fact, a recent report indicated that one-half of people infected by COVID didn’t even know they had it. The COVID virus can be spread to others by people who are infected, whether or not they have symptoms.
Symptoms of COVID, especially those of the more contagious variants, can be mistaken to be those of allergies, sinus, a cold, or the flu, and left untested, can quickly and easily spread the infection.
Misinformation such as the belief of many that COVID is over, that what is out there is not as bad as the original and the Delta variant and if one does become infected, there are drugs that can make it all go away, contribute to the spread.

Some people mistakenly believe only older adults and those with underlying conditions need to be concerned, while younger people are reported to believe that, should they become infected, they will have little if any side-effects and they will recuperate quickly, perhaps not understanding their potential to infect others.
The bottom line – COVID vaccines and boosters save lives. Assuming respiratory and other symptoms are not COVID is wishful thinking. Test. Protect yourself and help stop the spread within our community.
Don’t depend on luck.

Chris Smith of Muncy was a prevention education/highway safety specialist for over 35 years and is a member of Let’s End COVID!
Published: 9/24/22

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