These days, when your child is sick, it can be difficult to tell whether their symptoms are COVID-19, the flu, allergies, or the common cold. These illnesses share symptoms–like congestion, coughing, and fatigue, but there are also differences.
It is crucial to figure out what is making your child sick, so you can help them get the treatment they need and prevent spreading the sickness to others.
COVID-19 vs.The Flu
Different viruses cause the flu and COVID-19. The flu is caused by the influenza virus, while COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It can be hard to tell the difference since they share similar symptoms–both COVID-19 and the flu can cause:
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- Chest discomfort
While less common, both can cause GI symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (these symptoms are more common in young children). The loss of taste and smell is one symptom that some people may get with COVID-19 and is less common than with the flu.
Both are spread similarly through small particles when an infected person sneezes, coughs, sings, talks, or shouts. However, COVID-19 can be spread to others more easily than the flu. The flu and COVID-19 can be spread by infected people who are not showing any symptoms. Both illnesses can be asymptomatic, mild, severe, or even fatal.
Have symptoms? Get tested!
Since there are so many similarities between COVID-19 and the flu, the only sure way to determine if your child has the flu is to get them tested. You can take your child to get tested at their primary care doctor's office, a local health center, or possibly even your local pharmacy (be sure to check beforehand!).
Testing for COVID-19
You can use an at-home COVID-19 test to determine whether your child has the virus. Be careful, though, as testing too early after symptoms develop can produce false negative results. To confirm the result, administer another at-home test 24 to 48 hours after the first.
If your child still has symptoms and is testing negative at home, experts recommend a PCR test. The PCR test is more sensitive than the rapid and can often detect the virus earlier. You can also omit the quick test and get a PCR test!
Testing for the flu
There are many tests available to determine whether an individual has the flu. Rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) and molecular assays are the most common. Both produce results in 15-20 minutes and can be administered by a healthcare provider.
Most doctor's offices and some pharmacies, and COVID-19 testing centers offer two-in-one tests for COVID-19 and the flu. Testing will reveal your child's illness or whether they have both at the same time.
Flu season is here
Flu season has arrived, and it looks like it has started earlier than years past. As temperatures cool and the seasons change, people are more likely to be indoors and closer to others, which leads to more spread. The flu virus prefers colder weather–it is more transmissible in cooler climates with low humidity.
Over the last two years, during COVID-19, the flu pretty much disappeared. Staying home, avoiding public gatherings, wearing masks, and not traveling helped people avoid the flu entirely. Now, the flu can circulate with people returning to pre-pandemic activities, like sporting events, concerts, neighborhood gatherings, and travel.
Preventing the spread
Strategies to prevent COVID-19—washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, social distancing, and masking when symptoms are present—can prevent the flu.
The best way to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and the flu is vaccination. It is important to note, however, that the COVID-19 vaccine does not protect against the flu, and the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, so your child would need both vaccines and get both safely at the time!
Visit https://www.vaccines.gov to find a flu vaccination and COVID-19 vaccination near you!