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Is It a Cold, the Flu or COVID-19?

man lying in a bed looking sick

TUESDAY, Nov. 3, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Cold and flu season is here, so you need to know how to tell the difference between those illnesses and COVID-19, an expert says.

It's also especially important to get a flu shot this year, according to Dr. Sadiya Khan, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"By getting a flu vaccine, you not only protect yourself, you boost your own immune system and protect others from the flu as well as a more severe illness if you were to contract both influenza and COVID-19," Khan said in a university news release.

"Getting vaccinated is especially important if you are pregnant or immunocompromised or have direct contact with someone who is," she emphasized.

"There are many symptoms of a 'common cold,' flu and COVID-19 that overlap, including fever, sneezing, cough and fatigue," Khan said.

"One symptom that seems to be unique to COVID-19 is a loss of sense of smell or taste. However, none of these symptoms are perfect to diagnose the cause of 'cold-like' symptoms, and the only way to know for sure is to get tested," she said.

Compared to the flu and COVID-19, the common cold is usually a mild illness. Common symptoms include: runny or stuffy nose; sneezing; sore throat; cough; sinus congestion, and postnasal drainage.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness or even death. Common symptoms include: high fever; sore throat; cough; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; muscle aches or weakness; fatigue; nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

"COVID-19 is caused by a new virus called SARS-CoV-2 and can be asymptomatic or cause mild to severe illness and has contributed to more than 200,000 United States deaths this year. The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to wear a mask outside your home, practice physical distancing and wash hands frequently," Khan said.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include: high fever; cough (it may be a deep cough); shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; muscle aches or weakness; fatigue; nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, and loss of taste and/or smell.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Oct. 27, 2020

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