Cold and flu season is just around the corner. A common question parents ask is, “Is this a cold, the flu or COVID-19?”
Cold, flu or COVID-19?
Pay attention to the symptoms your child shows. Monitor your child for a few days and document whether your child’s condition is getting worse. If it’s getting worse, what you thought was a cold may actually be influenza or COVID-19.
- The onset. Sudden onset is associated with influenza. If the illness came on slowly, it may be a common cold. COVID-19 can cause a rapid or gradual onset of symptoms.
- Fever. Flu and COVID-19 often cause a high fever, whereas a cold may produce a mild fever or no fever.
- Fatigue. A cold can cause mild exhaustion. The flu and COVID-19 may cause severe exhaustion.
- Body aches. A common cold doesn’t usually come with body aches. The flu and COVID-19 may cause your child to feel achy all over.
There’s really only one way to tell the difference between the flu, a cold and COVID-19: Get tested for COVID-19.
At-home COVID-19 tests are a convenient and accurate option. Find a test at your local pharmacy or retailer. A negative test can indicate that a cold or the flu is behind your child’s symptoms.
Meet Mr. Flu
In the U.S., flu season runs from October to May.
- Flu symptoms usually begin about two days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of appetite, cough, sore throat, weakness, ear pain, nausea and diarrhea (more common in children).
- Flu symptoms can last about five days and should be gone within a week or two. It’s important to take influenza seriously as it can lead to pneumonia or other life-threatening complications.
- The flu is contagious. It’s spread by droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air. They can be inhaled or picked up on common surfaces.
- The flu vaccine is recommended every year for everyone 6 months old and older. The vaccine isn’t a guarantee against getting the flu, but it may result in fewer or milder flu symptoms.
Say hello to Mr. Cold
Kids can get eight or more colds per year. Symptoms of colds can be similar to the flu, but there are some key differences.
- Cold symptoms include sneezing, cough, sore or itchy throat, runny or stuffy nose and watery eyes. In some cases, people may have a fever, muscle or body aches and fatigue.
- Colds are contagious and are spread by a sneeze or cough or touching a contaminated surface.
- Cold symptoms show up within two to three days after exposure to the virus and can last up to two weeks.
Get to know Mr. COVID-19
Generally, kids experience milder cases of COVID-19, although they should still take precautions.
- It can take longer for people to show symptoms of COVID-19 compared to the flu with symptoms starting up to 14 days after they were exposed. It can also cause more serious illnesses in high-risk groups, like seniors or people with immune system disorders.
- COVID-19 can cause all the same symptoms as a cold or the flu, but sneezing is less common. Additional symptoms can include new loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu. People infected with COVID-19 are also contagious for longer. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets. A sick person exhales infectious droplets when they breathe, talk or cough.
- Everyone 6 months old and older should receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster when eligible. The vaccine helps protect your health and the health of those around you. Talk to your provider about how many doses you and your child should get.
Prevent the spread
- Get your child vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 if they’re 6 months old or older.
- Wash hands often with soap and warm water, especially before and after eating, using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing.
- Use a clean tissue to pick up used tissues and never share cups or eating utensils.
- Keep your child home from school or day care when they’re sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If needed, cough or sneeze into your upper arm, not your hands. Teach your child this technique.
If you have further questions or concerns, contact your child’s provider.
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