A Cold, the Flu and Everything In Between

General Medical

What would normally already be a stressful time when coughs and colds (and influenza) peak in Australia, is even more complicated with the addition of COVID-19 infection. With so many respiratory illnesses floating around – and many with similar symptoms - when should you worry about a runny nose? When is a cold more than a cold and potentially COVID-19 or influenza?

First thing first – a ‘cold’ and influenza (AKA the flu) are different illnesses 

Whilst they are both caused by viruses, a “cold” tends to be milder with coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose; most people can continue to function and work/study through a cold. Influenza tends to be more severe with symptoms such as muscle aches, fatigue, and fever. Many people will comment that they have “the flu” when in reality, they have a mild viral illness consistent with a cold; influenza will normally place even the healthiest and fittest person in bed for a week or so.

The influenza vaccine (AKA the flu vaccine) is an excellent way to reduce your risk of contracting influenza 

It's ideally given before the flu season commences, however, it's never too late to get the vaccine! In Australia, many groups can receive a funded dose of the vaccine (with no out of pocket cost). Children between 6 months and 5 years of age, adults over 65, those with conditions such as (but not limited to) diabetes and asthma and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 6 months fall into this group. Pregnant women also receive a funded vaccine.

COVID-19 is the infection caused by Coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2)

A lot of symptoms, such as fever and cough, can overlap with influenza. Some people with mild symptoms of COVID-19 can also experience cold-like symptoms. It can be a confusing territory for many - do I have a cold or COVID-19?

Currently, as of writing, testing has been ramped up in Australia with anyone with respiratory symptoms (such as a runny nose, cough, fever) is now eligible for testing for COVID-19

Don’t forget we also test for other viruses with swabs (such as Influenza). If you're concerned and require testing, call your GP clinic ahead of time to ensure they are doing testing at the facility. They may direct you to a COVID-19 testing clinic which is set up solely for that purpose.

Finally, let me be very clear. Not every runny nose or cough will be COVID-19

The common cold and influenza are peaking in Australia now, so if you feel unwell it could be any number of viral infections. As always, if you're concerned and need assistance, see your doctor or attend an emergency department.

These are confusing and anxious times, so continue to be kind to yourself. Go for a walk in the sunshine, meditate, call a friend and please, continue to wash your hands.

Dr Preeya Alexander
Please note: Dr. Preeya's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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