With the coronavirus pandemic still at the forefront of our minds, we now must contend with the time of year when cold and flu cases begin to rise.
It’s important to stay vigilant in washing your hands, wearing a mask and staying home if you’re ill.
But if you do feel sick, how can you tell which illness you have?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention break down the differences in these highly contagious respiratory illnesses.
People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, and their symptoms are usually milder than flu. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, like pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalization.
Flu and COVID-19 can result in severe illness and complications.
Both the flu and COVID-19 generally share symptoms of a dry cough, fever, chills, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
Loss of taste and smell and shortness of breath (without underlying conditions like asthma) are also prevalent symptoms of COVID-19.
Diarrhea, nausea and vomiting can sometimes be symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 as well.
The onset of flu is often dramatic (with showing symptoms within 1-4 days) while COVID-19 has shown to be a more subtle onset. People with coronavirus may not show symptoms for as early as two days after infection to as late as 14 days after infection. The time range can vary.
People with the cold and the flu typically show symptoms for 14 days or less, while those with coronavirus can show symptoms anywhere from seven to 25 days.
Frustratingly, some people infected with COVID-19 show no symptoms at all.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America provides a helpful chart to track symptoms commonly seen in COVID-19, colds, flu, allergies, or asthma.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to forfend infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
A flu vaccine is the single most important way to prevent the seasonal flu.
The CDC consistently recommends people should get a flu vaccine by the end of October. That could help prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed with flu and coronavirus patients at the same time.
If you get the vaccine, then also get the flu, Dr. Jarrod Bagatell of Upstate Medical University said the vaccine will mitigate your symptoms.
“It makes it a little more tolerable than what it might’ve been if you didn’t get a flu vaccine,” said Bagatell, who leads Upstate’s influenza vaccination effort. “So I don’t know anybody out there who wouldn’t take that opportunity to be less sick than what they otherwise might be.”
The flu is more dangerous and potentially deadly than many people realize, said Dr. Steven Thomas, chief of infectious disease at Upstate Medical University.
The flu killed 188 children in the U.S. during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the CDC. Only 21 percent of children nationwide were fully vaccinated against the flu in 2019-2020, according to the CDC. Coronavirus killed 103 kids in the U.S. as of Sept. 10, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Overall, the flu killed more than 24,000 people of all ages and caused more than 410,000 hospitalizations last season.
Story by Katrina Tulloch, syracuse.com. James Mulder contributed to this report.