Do I have Omicron, cold or flu symptoms? How can you tell the difference

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

Do you have a sore throat, runny nose, body aches or fever? It can be a common cold, flu or Covid-19, as the symptoms are very similar.

People suffering from these symptoms may wonder if they have Covid-19 and should isolate themselves and take a test.

But they may also be tempted to think it’s just a cold.

With the northern hemisphere in the middle of winter, when flu cases tend to peak (the season runs from early October to mid-May), flu may also be suspected.

A common cold and Omicron are in my opinion impossible to distinguish

Prof. Eskild Petersen, European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Given that the Omicron coronavirus variant may be more likely to lead to mild symptoms, people may feel that it is harder than ever to distinguish between the various respiratory infections that exist.

Here we take a look at the issue and ask experts for advice.

Does Omicron cause the same symptoms as the common cold?

Based on symptoms alone, it can be difficult to distinguish between the common cold and Covid-19, especially when it is caused by the Omicron variant.

This shows the importance of testing.

“A common cold and Omicron are in my opinion impossible to distinguish,” says Professor Eskild Petersen from Aarhus University Hospital, who is chairman of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. The national.

This is a point that is repeated by Dr. Andrew Freedman, a specialist in infectious diseases at Cardiff University in the UK.

“A lot of people, especially vaccinated people, get what would otherwise be perceived as the common cold,” he said.

The UK Health Service said the main symptoms of Covid-19 include a high body temperature, a new, persistent cough and loss or alteration of the sense of taste or smell.

Some of these overlap with common cold symptoms, which may also include a blocked or runny nose, muscle aches and sneezing.

Symptoms

Will Sars-CoV-2 become yet another coronavirus that causes colds?

Some researchers have predicted that Sars-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, will eventually largely only cause cold symptoms.

Four other coronaviruses that infect humans actually cause colds. One of these four is called HCoV-OC43.

Researchers have suggested that OC43 may have been responsible for the “Russian flu” pandemic that began in 1889 and went on to kill about one million people.

While OC43 can still cause serious illness in certain groups, such as infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, it usually just causes a cold.

This may be because we are infected with it periodically so we have a background level of immunity.

Sars-CoV-2 may be moving in the same direction, as the Omicron variant, although highly transmissible, often appears to cause milder symptoms.

There is now also broader immunity to the virus thanks to vaccination and previous infection.

Can influenza and Covid-19 be distinguished from each other?

Although it is difficult to distinguish between the common cold and a mild case of Covid-19 based on symptoms alone, infectious disease experts said that influenza is more likely to produce different indicators.

“Influenza can be a more serious illness with soreness,” said Dr. Freedman.

In particular, the flu can cause a person to develop muscle aches and back pain, Professor Petersen said, symptoms not typically associated with Covid-19, especially when caused by the Omicron variant.

“If you really have the flu, you have a fever and general muscle pain,” he said, adding that a loss of smell – sometimes seen with Covid-19 – is typically not found with the flu.

In addition to a painful body, the NHS said that flu-like symptoms that can occur quickly may include a sudden rise in body temperature (38 ° C and above), fatigue or exhaustion, dry cough, sore throat and headaches, among others.

What should people do if they have symptoms that could be Covid-19?

The rules vary from country to country, but as a general advice, experts say that people with possible Covid-19 symptoms should isolate themselves and be tested, ideally with a PCR test, as these are more accurate.

A key point emphasized by health organizations such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that people infected with coronavirus can transmit the pathogen, even when they have mild or no symptoms.

“The CDC expects anyone with Omicron infection to be able to spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or have no symptoms,” the organization said in an online briefing last month.

Vaccination remains widely recommended as a way to reduce the chance of hospitalization, serious illness and death, although people with Covid-19 symptoms should not be vaccinated until they are healthy, the NHS advises.

It said people should wait 28 days after a positive test or after symptoms started before being vaccinated.

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Updated: January 6, 2022 at. 9:52

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