As flu season and the coronavirus pandemic cross paths, it can be difficult to determine if you are suffering from the common cold, the flu, or a case of COVID-19.

Symptoms are easy to confuse, especially if vaccinated, as breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are typically mild, much like the flu or a cold.

Dr. Manoj Gandhi, senior medical director for genetic testing solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific, told USA Today, “When people get vaccinations for the flu (or COVID), the whole point of the vaccine is that it makes the disease less severe. You get a muted response to the virus ... seeing a mild fever, maybe some weakness here and there.”

Symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 can be similar. A person may suffer from a fever, runny nose, headache, sore throat, have a cough, or be fatigued. But COVID-19 infections may also include loss of taste or smell, which can help differentiate the two, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some people that have a cold may be sick for up to seven to 10 days, while COVID symptoms typically show up within two to 14 days after a person has been exposed to the virus, lasting for up to two weeks.

The flu can last for three to seven days, with some symptoms of fatigue and weakness as long as two weeks.

Health experts suggest that the only way to determine the difference between a cold or COVID infection is to have a PCR test, which can even be done simultaneously for COVID-19 and influenza in one swab,

Alex Richter, a professor of clinical immunology at the University of Birmingham, told The Independent, “It’s impossible to tell the difference between a cold and COVID-19 clinically. They present so similarly that only PCR testing can differentiate between the two. Lateral flow testing can help with screening, but if someone has symptoms, they should go for a PCR swab test.”

Health professionals also urge people who are not feeling well to stay home, practice good hygiene, and wear a mask. The CDC also recommends getting the flu vaccine and the COVID shot.

Colds/Flu Representational image. Photo: Luisella Planeta Leoni/Pixabay