Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19?
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With COVID-19 in the mix, this year’s cold and flu season could prove interesting. For starters, every throat tickle and sneeze might make people anxious.

University of Calfornia Health’s clinical chief of infectious diseases, Daniel Uslan, M.D., MBA, shares how to tell the difference.

1. A simple way to know when it’s a cold

“A cold is an upper respiratory infection that causes nasal congestion, sore throat and occasionally a cough,” says Dr. Uslan. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also trademarks of the flu and COVID-19. But there’s a key difference.

“With a cold,” Dr. Uslan continues, “you won’t have a fever or muscle aches, which are hallmark signs of influenza and COVID-19.”

2. Comparing the flu and COVID-19 is more challenging

Two illnesses share many common symptoms: fever (above 100.4 degrees F), chills, muscle aches, headaches, cough, sore throat, and a stuffy or runny nose. Both illnesses can also make it hard to breathe. But with COVID-19, this problem, in particular, tends to be much worse.

“That gasping-for-air feeling typically doesn’t happen with influenza unless you’ve also developed pneumonia,” says Dr Uslan.

Losing your sense of taste or smell is a good indication that you have COVID-19, as this doesn’t happen with the flu.

3. Testing is key

The only way to know for sure what’s causing your symptoms is to get tested, Dr. Uslan says.

The right diagnosis can affect treatment decisions and also help track and prevent the spread of both viruses.

If you have the flu, antiviral medications like Tamiflu® can lower the risk of respiratory infections like pneumonia and knock a day or two off of how long you’re sick — but you should start treatment within 48 hours of symptom onset for best results.

4. While a COVID-19 vaccine is in development, flu vaccines are available now

While scientists are still working on a COVID-19 vaccine, the good news is that there’s already a vaccine to protect you against the flu.

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