Health professional says knowing differences between cold, flu and COVID-19 could help relieve strain on hospitals

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DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – As the cold weather sets in, so does cold and flu season, which is made even more complicated this year by skyrocketing cases of COVID-19. While most Americans are used to the common cold and the flu, many may not know how to differentiate between each of those and COVID-19. But Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein, patient officer with Kettering Health, said it’s important to know the differences as hospitals across the Miami Valley are starting to reach capacity.

“With a cold, you would typically have a runny nose, congestion and often you’re sneezing, occasionally coughing. But you do not get a fever, you don’t typically get the body aches and some of the other more severe symptoms that you would expect with flu or COVID,” Weinstein explained.

Allergy symptoms, he said, can tend to be similar, and include itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose. However, the flu can be significantly more difficult to distinguish from COVID-19. 

“The symptoms are very similar. Typically you have cough but you also have fever. You’ll get other symptoms such as shortness of breath, you get muscle aches and headache. Sometimes you get GI symptoms like nausea, vomiting, occasionally  diarrhea.”

Simply being aware of the nuances and treating them accordingly, Weinstein said, can make a world of difference for healthcare professionals and those who need more urgent medical attention.

“If you are having a fever and a cough but you just feel a little achy [and just] don’t feel great, but you’re otherwise okay and able to eat and drink and breathe…then you probably don’t need to run into the doctor or to a facility. If you have the sensation of being short of breath, [if] you can’t catch your breath, maybe you’re having chest pain along with that, or if you notice that your fingers or your lips might be turning blue, those would all be indicators that you really should go seek medical attention.”

Weinstein said those who haven’t gotten their flu shot yet should consider doing so as well, since it’s nearly 70 percent effective and makes cases more mild for those who do get sick. Fewer flu cases and proper discretion regarding each sickness can be beneficial for everyone, and being diligent about protecting your health, he said, will be crucial until the COVID-19 vaccine is available.

“The COVID vaccine… is not available yet, but it looks like it’s very highly effective so we’re hoping within about a month to be able to start distributing the COVID vaccine.

Until then, Weinstein said community members should continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks and getting tested when unsure of their condition. A CDC outline of similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19 can be found here.

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