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

COVID-19 symptoms are much like cold and flu

Illustration with faces showing Five symptoms of COVID-19. Fever, cough, shortness of breath. With logo that says Facts over fear.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. A sore throat and headache are other common elements.

As anyone who has ever suffered through allergies, a common cold or a flu can tell you, 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 worldwide 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.

Dr. Suttle said Sanford has been working with health departments in the states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota in facilitating the tests and have experienced turnaround times of at least 24 hours. They’d still like to get results more quickly, however.

“The capacity to do testing is what we want to increase,” Dr. Suttle said. “So at Sanford we’re hoping, in addition to department of health testing, to really expand that and to go to a commercial tester and even develop our own in-house test in the very near future.”

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 and follow these next steps.

For current Sanford patients, option 1: Schedule an e-visit

  1. Log in to your 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, option 2: Call your doctor’s office

If you are experiencing fever or cough, or if you feel you might have COVID-19, 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 experiencing fever or cough, or if you feel you might have COVID-19 call My Sanford Nurse.

A Sanford Health nurse will ask you questions regarding your symptoms, if you have been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and your previously traveled locations.

Learn more

Posted In Coronavirus, Frequently Asked Questions

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