Gripe frente a COVID- 19: cómo diferenciar

Resfriado

by Tresa McNeal, MD, FACP, SFHM

noviembre17,2023

Information and guidance about COVID-19 care and vaccination continues to evolve. Please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest.

It’s that time of year again, those months when it seems like everyone is sniffling, sneezing and coughing. Yes, it’s Gripe season. Right now, flu activity is low in Texas, but the number of cases usually hits its peak in December and January.

Health officials are also keeping an eye on another virus: COVID-19. While the pandemic has ended, variants are still spreading. Most areas in Texas have seen an uptick in cases since early fall.

In a world where influenza and COVID-19 coexist, determining which virus you or your loved ones have contracted can be difficult. With very similar symptoms, how can you tell the difference? Let’s break down what we know about each disease.

Flu vs. COVID-19: similarities and differences

The current strains of both the flu and COVID-19 can cause the same symptoms as previous variants:

  • Fiebre
  • Tos
  • Nariz que moquea
  • Dolor de cuerpo
  • Dolor de garganta
  • Fatiga
  • Dolor de cabeza
  • Occasional nausea or diarrhea

COVID-19 symptoms may also include loss of taste or smell, which can be helpful in distinguishing between the two. However, not all patients with coronavirus experience loss of taste or smell. So people with other symptoms common to both flu and COVID-19 without loss of taste or smell should not assume that they don’t have coronavirus.

Outside of symptoms, there are some other notable differences between COVID-19 and the flu. COVID-19 spreads much more easily and while both viruses can cause serious illness, COVID-19 causes significantly more people to have severe illness requiring hospitalization and or even a stay in intensive care. This makes it especially important to monitor yourself and your children for symptoms of illness.

Getting tested

Here’s the bottom line: The only way that you can tell the difference for certain is by getting tested. Testing can also help your doctor advise you on next steps for treatment and recovery.

There are several ways you can get a COVID-19 test. You can order four free at-home tests from COVID.gov or you can buy the tests at most retail pharmacies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide no-cost testing at thousands of locations nationwide.

There are also several tests for the flu, but they can only be administered by a healthcare provider. Contact your primary care doctor or pediatrician or a local clinic or urgent care center to find out if they offer flu tests.

It’s important to know whether you have the flu or COVID-19 because each has different treatments that may be recommended depending on your age and other health issues. For example, if you have COVID plus these risk factors, you should contact your primary care physician to see if taking Paxlovid (nirmaltrevir) is right for you.

  • 50 years old or older, especially over 65
  • Unvaccinated
  • Have chronic conditions that have increased risk of complications (lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes and any condition causing a person to be immunocompromised)

If you have the flu and similar risk factors, your doctor may recommend taking an antiviral to treat it.

If you have flu or COVID-19 symptoms

If you or your child has any symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu, stay home. Avoid going to work or school and running errands in the community.

If you experience increasing shortness of breath, chest pain or other life-threatening symptoms, call 911. If your symptoms are mild, talk to your primary care physician or arrange a virtual visit.  

While you are at home waiting to get tested or receive results, here are some things you can do to care for yourself and manage mild symptoms. Follow the same suggestions if you are caring for a sick family member at home.

  • Descansa lo suficiente.
  • Beber líquidos.
  • Control fever by taking acetaminophen every 4-6 hours as needed. Talk to your doctor about any specific medication or dosage concerns.

Lowering your risk of illness

It is important to remember that you do have other ways of taking control of your risk and protecting your loved ones from both the flu and COVID-19: Get the vaccines (and boosters) and be vigilant about hand hygiene.

Right now is the perfect time to get a flu vaccine. In addition to protecting yourself, getting the vaccine also helps protect those around you with impaired immune systems such as infants, the elderly and others with immunocompromising conditions. The more people in a community who get a vaccine, the better we can protect those high-risk groups from getting sick and facing life-threatening complications.

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are widely available in the community. Most retail pharmacies offer the shots, and many offer same-day and walk-in vaccinations. 

In North Texas, Baylor Scott & White Health’s in-home vaccine program makes it easy for your family to get your flu and COVID-19 shots, as well as several other vaccines, in your home, at your convenience. Appointments can be scheduled through Mybswhealth.

Keep in mind that some people who test positive for COVID-19 mayo never show symptoms, while others will possibly develop symptoms within a few days.

So just because you feel healthy doesn’t mean you can’t still spread the virus to your friends, family, coworkers and communities. For the sake of those around you, be a good neighbor, get your vaccines and remain conscious of good hand hygiene.

If you or a family member is experiencing symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, we can help. ENCUENTRE UN DOCTOR near you, or schedule an eVisit or video visit today.

Sobre el Autor

Tresa McNeal, MD, FACP, SFHM, is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center — Temple.

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