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Fever confusion: How to tell apart COVID-19 and the common flu?

COVID-19 and flu may have varying degrees of signs and symptoms; from no symptoms (being asymptomatic) to showcasing severe symptoms, says Dr Sandeep Patil, Chief Intensivist and Physician at the Fortis Hospital in Kalyan

covid 19 in childrenThe Health Ministry has issued guidelines on how to take care of Covid positive children in home isolation. (Source: pixabay)

While some people may call it paranoia, others may think of it as prudent to isolate themselves if they begin to show symptoms associated with the common flu, including fever. Doctors say that while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, every onset of fever should be suspected and investigated for the virus, albeit without panicking. Fevers commonly associated with monsoon related illnesses include malaria, dengue, leptospirosis, enteric fever, viral hepatitis, etc. As such, Dr Sandeep Patil, Chief Intensivist and Physician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, says that while it is always important to seek timely medical treatment, there is also a need to differentiate between COVID-19-related fever and the common flu.

Here is what you need to know.

“Both contagious illnesses of the respiratory tract, influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by the infection of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) whereas, the flu is caused by the influenza viruses. As some of the symptoms are similar, it could be hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. Hence, testing is required to confirm the diagnosis. While characteristics are similar, there are key differences between the two and more is being learned every new day,” he says.

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Similarities between the two:

COVID-19 and flu may have varying degrees of signs and symptoms; from no symptoms (being asymptomatic) to showcasing severe symptoms.

– Onset of fever or chills
– Cough
– Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing
– Fatigue
– Sore throat and runny or stuffy nose
– Muscle pain or body aches
– Headache
– Vomiting and diarrhoea (though this is more common in children than adults)

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The differences

– The flu virus may cause mild to severe illness, comprising the signs and symptoms listed above
– Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 those different from flu may include loss of taste or smell

Who is at high-risk of severe illness?


“COVID-19 and flu can cause severe illness and complications. People at a higher risk include older adults, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant women.

“For healthy children, the risk of complications is higher in flu as opposed to COVID-19. For infants and children with underlying medical conditions, there is a grave risk of being infected with flu and COVID-19. School-aged children infected with COVID-19 are at higher risk of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but severe complication of COVID-19,” warns Dr Patil.

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The complications:


Many who get the flu will likely recover in a few days to less than two weeks. However, some may develop complications. Additional complications associated with COVID-19 may cause blood clotting in the veins or arteries of the heart, lungs, legs or brain, as well as cause Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). COVID-19 and flu can result in complications that include:

* Pneumonia
* Respiratory failure
* Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (fluid in lungs)
* Sepsis
* Heart attack or stroke
* Multi-organ failure
* Worsening of existing chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, nervous system or diabetes)
* Inflamed heart, brain or muscle tissues
* Secondary bacterial infections (superadded bacterial infections along with flu /COVID-19 for the second time)

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The treatment

“Those at a high risk of complications or those hospitalized for either COVID-19 or flu, should receive supportive medical care to help relieve symptoms and complications if any. Influenza antiviral drugs such as Oseltamavir are FDA-approved to treat flu, and are prescribed as per the course advised by a doctor. For COVID-19, treatment guidelines have been developed by The National Institute of Health (NIH) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

“Remdesivir, an antiviral agent is being explored as a treatment for COVID-19 and is available under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), whereas experts use Favipiravir for mild cases. There are currently no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent or treat COVID-19, studies are in progress to learn more.” he concludes.


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First published on: 11-09-2020 at 15:00 IST
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