The short answer is that there is no way to tell a coronavirus infection apart from the common flu. In both circumstances the symptoms that the patient shows would be cough, cold, fever, body ache etc. That is why in public health parlance the term influenza-like illnesses is used. Both common flu and coronavirus infection would come in that spectrum.
Dr P Ravindran, director, Emergency Medical Response at the Health Ministry who has dealt with many outbreaks including swine flu, bird flu and Nipah, said, “In initial presentation there is no difference in influenza or coronavirus or adenovirus. All of them qualify as influenza-like diseases. It is the surveillance case definition — in this case given that most cases have come from outside, it would mean answers to questions like what symptoms do you have and where have you travelled — that can guide a surveillance person to the right conclusions. That is why different protocols are put in place for different stages of transmission. Even in the advanced stages of the disease, symptomatically you cannot tell between the different diseases.”
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There are, however, crucial differences in both the prevention and the prognosis of the two diseases. For one, there is a seasonal flu vaccine that can be annually taken. A vaccine for coronavirus is still in the works, with the most promising one being an mRNA vaccine being developed by Moderna Biotech whose phase I trials will be carried out by the National Institutes of Health in the USA soon. While the mortality rate of coronavirus infection, at a little over 3%, is far lower than that for, say, swine flu, it is way higher than seasonal influenza or common flu — a mere 0.1%.
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