Is it the Flu or COVID-19? How to Tell the Difference

With the arrival of fall and colder temperatures, the flu (influenza) season is around the corner. This year, the common cold or flu may have bigger implications than usual for patient care. Because COVID-19 and the flu often present with similar symptoms, healthcare providers are worried that it may be difficult to detect which virus an individual has without extensive isolating and testing. This may be costly in terms of time and money for patients, providers, and health systems.

As the flu begins to spread alongside COVID-19, it is more important than ever to understand the differences between the viruses and what to do if you suspect you have been infected. Careful action and preventive measures can help keep you and others safe and reduce the burden on health systems.

Infection and Symptoms

Both the flu (influenza) and COVID-19 are viral respiratory illnesses. The viruses are commonly spread from respiratory droplets that occur when people with the virus cough, sneeze, or talk while in close contact with others. The viruses may also be transmitted by physical human contact or touching an infected surface.

The symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 often present in a similar way, especially in younger people. Common symptoms of both illnesses include, but are not limited to:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches

Having two or more of any of these symptoms increases the likelihood that a person may have COVID-19. However, many people with COVID-19 may have minimal symptoms or none at all (asymptomatic). A person with COVID-19 may also experience side effects not commonly associated with the flu, such as loss of taste or smell.

What to do if you suspect you have been infected?

In the case of a common flu, people usually show symptoms within 1 to 4 days after infection. With COVID-19, the average incubation period is about 5 days, but symptoms can appear as late as 14 days after infection. For this reason, if you suspect that you have come into contact with COVID-19, you should take extra precautions to self-isolate for 14 days. You may also wish to get tested if you will be coming into contact with others.

The best protection against the flu is getting a flu shot early on to prevent yourself from contracting the virus. There is currently no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. If you suspect that you are infected with the flu or COVID-19 and start experiencing serious side-effects, you should consult a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Telephone medicine is a helpful service for patients who suspect that they have been infected with either the flu or COVID-19. Telephone medicine protocols, like those used by Triage Logic can help nurses identify patient symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19. Protocols also help nurses determine which symptoms are truly serious and allow them to direct patients to the appropriate level of care. Efficiently triaging patients is critical to ensuring that healthcare systems are not overburdened and patients receive the best possible care. For practitioners interested in the protocols, we also offer telephone triage software with guided protocols for nurses to use in the office. 

Are you looking to implement or expand your organization’s telemedicine services? Contact us today to set up a live demo to see if TriageLogic can make your service a success.

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