As the fall equinox nears and we're still in the throes of the pandemic, it's important to remember that autumn and winter are also cold-and-flu season. It's not just COVID-19 that we need to be wary of—plenty of other transmittable illnesses await us as our children return to school and we head back to offices. CityMD Medical Director Dr. Janette Nesheiwat and Summit Health pediatrician Dr. Aashiki Shah advise us about what to watch out for and how to cope.
While the Delta variant is currently surging, "not everything is COVID-19," Dr. Nesheiwat says. "Rhinovirus, flu, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are circulating as well." Additionally, strep throat, mono (infectious mononucleosis), and bronchitis are all commonly diagnosed during this time of year.
The problem is that many of these viral and bacterial diseases will present symptoms that are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. "Some common cold symptoms include runny nose, congestion, sore throat, headache, sometimes elevated temperature, or body aches," Dr. Nesheiwat says.
With flu and COVID-19, weakness and fatigue are common. A sore throat and congestion may also occur. You can experience cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sinus pressure with COVID-19, flu, or viral bronchitis.
With COVID-19, these symptoms are generally more severe. However, don’t assume diagnosis based on the severity of your symptoms.
To rule out what you don't have and find out what you do have, see a doctor. Dr. Nesheiwat points out that "you can get a flu swab and a COVID-19 swab" to rule out or confirm an illness. You can also get a throat culture for strep and a blood test for mono. Once your results are back, your doctor will decide on a diagnosis and treatment.
You can help yourself and your provider by doing what you can to protect yourself from illness. "Get your flu and COVID vaccines," Dr. Shah says. "In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the circulating Delta variant, it's going to become quite challenging to differentiate between the two illnesses. The best course of action is to protect yourself against the known variants of influenza and COVID-19."
In addition, Dr. Shah says, know when to head to a doctor's office, urgent care center, or testing clinic by tracking your known exposures. For instance, if you start feeling ill and someone in your friend or family circle has had the flu or strep throat recently, you should head to your physician or urgent care for a flu or strep test. But if you've been exposed to COVID-19 and then start to come down with symptoms, Dr. Shah suggests heading to a COVID-19 testing site. This way, doctors' offices and urgent care centers won't become overwhelmed during their busiest season.
Both Dr. Shah and Dr. Nesheiwat also suggest treating common symptoms with:
- Cough drops or throat lozenges
- Keeping a daily temperature diary
If you are sick with anything from a cold to COVID-19, rest and hydrate with warm tea and honey as well as soup, adds Dr. Shah. "Your body is fighting off a virus, but it will be more successful if you can minimize energy spent on other tasks such as work."
Learn more about COVID-19 testing and locations here.
Both physicians also agree that, along with vaccines, prevention is the best policy. To avoid getting sick in the first place:
- Wear masks when around those who are not members of your own household
- Use good hand hygiene
- Practice social distancing
- Avoid smoking
- Consume a well-balanced diet complete with fruit and vegetables
It's not just respiratory illnesses that run rampant this time of year. Like COVID-19, parasites such as lice are difficult to prevent catching and it’s oftentimes hard to pinpoint the source. The real question here is, during a pandemic, what's the safest way to eliminate lice if your child brings them home?
Experts agree that over-the-counter treatments are safe and effective, but some strains of lice are resistant, and it's easy to miss a few eggs here and there. To prevent a recurrence, call a company that comes to the house or bring your child to a treatment center, if it's open, for individual comb-outs. As with any personal service, make sure anyone treating your child is vaccinated and wearing a mask.