COVID-19 FAQs: How can I tell if I have coronavirus?

CDC expands symptoms of COVID-19, which are still like cold and flu

Illustration with faces showing symptoms of COVID-19. Fever, cough or sore throat, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell. With logo that says Facts Over Fear.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s understanding of the virus continues to evolve, as of April 27 it included six additional symptoms that may be common to the coronavirus. They are: chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

As anyone who has ever suffered through allergies, a common cold or a flu can tell you, some of those conditions share traits with COVID-19.

So how can you tell the difference whether you’re suffering from allergies or just getting sick with a cold — or carrying the virus that is part of a pandemic?

No. 1, according to the World Health Organization, symptoms of the virus do not normally match up exactly with those of a common cold. With COVID-19, aches and pains, fever and a dry cough are most prominent.

Allergies vs COVID-19

In regard to allergies, while they can cause a cough, they do not cause a fever or a sore throat.

And COVID-19 is not connected with the itchy eyes, itchy nose and sneezing typically associated with allergies.

“It’s very important that every single person on the planet knows what signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious diseases epidemiologist with the WHO. “The symptoms of COVID-19 are not sneezing and having a runny nose.”

Colds vs COVID-19

Differentiating among a cold, allergies, influenza and COVID-19 is important for everyday people. It’s also vital for clinicians trying to manage the spread of the virus.

“The initial symptoms can be very similar with a fever, a cough and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford Health chief medical officer, during a live Facebook question-and-answer session on March 15. “That’s where things start to differentiate. The difference with influenza is that we have a vaccine. We also have treatment — Tamiflu can be helpful, depending on the year.”

Watch video: Facebook Live Q&A with Sanford Health

The potential severity of the illness is also increased with COVID-19 in comparison to influenza. In this case it means within high-risk populations, COVID-19 can be very concerning.

Flu vs COVID-19

“It can be hard to tell as a clinician, if you’re dealing with a patient with influenza or the coronavirus,” Dr. Suttle said. “Oftentimes we will rule out influenza — it’s a quick test we can do right away at the clinic.”

Typically, after crossing off influenza, a clinician will begin asking specific questions pertaining to the coronavirus in order to decide whether a COVID-19 test is necessary.

To be tested for COVID-19, patients must meet high risk criteria and have a physician order. High risk criteria as defined by the CDC are:

  • Active lower respiratory symptoms — fever, chills, cough or sore throat, or
  • New symptoms of difficulty breathing, muscle pain, loss of taste or smell, or
  • Exposure to anyone with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 test

Sanford Health also prioritizes hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms, older adults, and people of any age with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

If you are experiencing fever or cough, or if you feel you might have COVID-19, do not go to work and do not travel. In some cases, immediate attention may be needed.

Emergency warning signs: Call 911

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

For current Sanford patients: Schedule an e-visit

  1. Log in to My Sanford Chart to request an e-visit.
  2. Select your reason for an e-visit and follow the prompts.
  3. Submit your request for an e-visit and a Sanford physician will respond to you within four hours through My Sanford Chart.

For current Sanford patients, another option: Call your doctor’s office

When you call your doctor’s office, they will ask you two screening questions:

  • Do you have a fever, chills, sore throat, cough, or new symptoms of shortness of breath, headaches, muscle pain, or have a pending COVID-19 test?
  • In the last 14 days, have you been exposed to anyone with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 test?

For the health and safety of our patients and employees please do not go directly to your clinic.

If you are new to Sanford Health

If you are not a current patient and you are concerned you might have COVID-19, call My Sanford Nurse.

A Sanford Health nurse will ask if you have a fever, chills, sore throat, cough, or new symptoms of shortness of breath, headaches, muscle pain, or have a pending COVID-19 test, or whether you’ve been exposed to anyone with a confirmed COVID-19 test.

This story was originally published March 15. It was updated April 27 to reflect new CDC guidelines.

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Posted In Coronavirus, Frequently Asked Questions

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