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Fewer masks mean return of common cold and symptom confusion

Common cold
Posted at 5:15 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 21:21:33-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Throughout the pandemic, masks have been worn to protect against coronavirus, however, they’ve also been protecting against other sicknesses like the cold, flu, strep throat, and more.

Now, with masks coming off, those other illnesses are spreading more than they have been throughout the last year and a half.

“I did not have any illness for about 15 months, not a sniffle,” said Kaiser Permanente Family Physical Heidi Meyer, MD.

Doctor Meyer said the difficulty healthcare providers will face moving forward is differentiating sicknesses like the flu or common cold from coronavirus, because there are many similarities in symptoms.

These challenges are growing now that masks are coming off.

“There are many overlapping symptoms between the common cold and COVID and that’s going to make it difficult for patients to know when to isolate, when to get tested and when to talk to their doctor,” said Doctor Meyer.

She said there are a few key differences. Some symptoms that are common with a cold or flu but are not common with coronavirus include sneezing, a runny nose and congestion. Some symptoms that are common with coronavirus but not a cold include loss of taste and smell. A fever is common in coronavirus but not in a cold however can be common in the flu, but doctor Meyer said flu season is not here yet so a fever during the summer would likely indicate coronavirus.

TrueCare’s Doctor Oscar Cook, MD adds that shortness of breath can be an indicator of coronavirus. He said many people have tools at home to test oxygen levels, and that can be another way of figuring out if sickness is a cold or coronavirus. Typically, oxygen levels would not decrease for a cold or flu.

When attempting to diagnose sickness, she said the first factor she looks at is vaccination status. If a person is vaccinated, it’s unlikely that they would have coronavirus.

“It would be a good practice to isolate and watch for a couple days. If your symptoms seem to be worsening and you develop shortness of breath then it would be a good time to test for covid as well,” said Doctor Cook.

The other issue with diagnosing is the timing. Doctor Meyer said it can take three days after symptoms begin to actually test positive for coronavirus.

“If you wake up feeling sick and you run and get a COVID test, it may be a false negative because you tested too early,” she said.

For this reason, she recommends everyone immediately isolate if any symptoms begin. If symptoms go away within a couple of days, it’s likely just a cold. If after three days symptoms persist, it would be wise to get a coronavirus test. Either way, staying home at the beginning will prevent the spread of any unnecessary germs.