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Cold, flu or Covid-19? Guidance for the next few months

It’s that time of year again – the children are back at school, the cardigans start coming out and the seasonal sniffles also make an appearance. Most of us know that while there are similarities in the symptoms, flu viruses usually make people feel sicker than cold viruses.


General health advice for both ailments is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take paracetamol or ibuprofen (providing they are suitable) to help with aches and pains. These measures should do the trick and most of the time a trip to the GP isn’t necessary. No tests are done to confirm the diagnosis, and once the symptoms are resolved it’s usually end of story.

But in Autumn 2020, thanks to the dreaded Covid-19, it’s become a whole lot more complicated. Any whiff of having contracted this virus means not only the affected person staying at home but everyone else in the household or support bubble as well. Life then goes on hold until the test results are back.

So, here’s some practical guidance to support you and your family over the next few months…

  1. Check your symptoms – The NHS advises the main symptoms of Covid-19 are a high temperature (you are hot to touch on your chest or back), a new continuous cough (coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more bouts of coughing in 24 hours), and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. If you have any of these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you necessarily have Covid-19 but you should get a test as soon as possible.


  1. If you are getting a test for Covid-19, don’t wait. The main test for Covid-19 used by the NHS is only reliable if it’s done when you have symptoms. This is because the test checks to see if you are carrying the virus that causes Covid-19 and needs to be taken in the first five days of illness.


  1. If the only symptom is sneezing or a runny nose, then it’s unlikely to be Covid-19. There’s scientific evidence that the bug that causes Covid-19 attacks the lower end of the respiratory system (so the lungs) more readily than the upper part (nose and throat). Rhinoviruses (the nasties that cause colds) go for the nose instead, hence why sneezing is such a common symptom of a cold. Allergies also cause sneezing and if this is the case then an over the counter anti-histamine can help.


  1. Play your part in helping to stop the bugs spreading. If you’re eligible for the NHS flu vaccination, make sure you take up the offer. While this won’t protect against colds or Covid-19, it will reduce the chances of you getting flu and spreading it to other people. Practising ‘hands, face and space’ can also help to stop diseases being transmitted from person to person.


  1. If you (or your child) are very unwell or your symptoms aren’t improving then it’s best to seek medical advice. Contact your GP via phone or use their website, and they will advise if an appointment is necessary. For urgent advice you can use the NHS 111 on-line service (for people aged 5 or over only), or phone 111.


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