Are there days when you wake up in the morning and feel under the weather? Have you suddenly started to sneeze and cough, and you feel you can’t catch your breath because you have been wearing a mask all day? In these tense moments where everyone is worried about the COVID-19, these respiratory symptoms would trigger you to think if you are infected by it as well. In fact, it could be just a flu or a common cold. How can we differentiate between influenza and COVID-19?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to distinguish between the two diseases based on the clinical symptoms alone. It is worth mentioning that we are now in the midst of the winter flu season, and there is a high number of influenza cases within the community. As both diseases share similar clinical presentation, it is very easy to get confused.
However, there are three points that we should bear in mind.
1. Do you experience shortness of breath?
The COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system, sometimes targeting the cells deep within the lungs, which may lead to shortness of breath. Hence, one should be more cautious if he is suffering from shortness of breath. In addition, if there are lung shadows on chest x-ray, then the risk of being infected with the COVID-19 is also higher.
2. Have you been to China?
Individuals who have visited China, especially to Wuhan and Hubei, within the past 14 days or have had close contact with individuals who either have visited these places or have been confirmed with the COVID-19 would have a higher risk of infection.
3. Are your symptoms improving or worsening over time?
The symptoms are usually the worst during the first two days of influenza and then the symptoms will gradually disappear. On the other hand, COVID-19 is usually mild at the early stage and tends to get progressively worse.
It is clear that we cannot rely on the points above to conclude on any diagnosis. If you are not feeling well, it is still best for you to see a doctor. The doctor will decide the next steps based on your conditions. All suspected cases of the COVID-19 will be transferred to the public hospitals for treatment.
If I did a rapid influenza diagnostic test and confirmed positive, does it mean that I am not infected by the COVID-19?
Not really. The mode of transmission for influenza and CONVID-19 are the same. In other words, you can contract both viruses at the same time. During the time of SARS, there were cases reported of having both infections. Moreover, influenza itself may also lead to complications, especially for elderly and those with chronic illnesses. So, if the symptoms continue without improvement, please be extra cautious and seek medical attention immediately.
One last thing, there are posts in social media suggesting a method of self-detection for COVID-19. It states that if you can hold your breath for more than 10 seconds, and not experience shortness of breath, chest tightness or other discomfort, then it signifies you are not infected by the virus. This myth is clearly not something one with basic common sense should believe in!
Dr Alexander Chiu, Medical Director, Health and Employee Benefits, AXA Hong Kong and Macau