Should you get a COVID test if you have the symptoms of a cold?

October 17, 2020

    With cold and flu season coinciding with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, anxieties are running high at the first sign of a cough or sniffle.

    Many may be wondering if they should get a COVID-19 test after the first signs of a cold develop?

    “I think everything needs to be done on a case-by-case basis,” Arnold S. Monto, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, told the Washington Post. “If we’re going to keep testing for everything, it is really going to overwhelm the system.”

    Complicating matters is that cold, flu and COVID symptoms often overlap, especially at the beginning.

    According to the CDC, symptoms of a cold include sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, postnasal drip, watery eyes, and, less commonly, fever.  While those with the flu can have a cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, and sometimes a fever.

    COVID symptoms include sore throat, cough, congestion or runny nose, fever /chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, body ache, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and the loss of taste and smell.

    Because of the similarities in symptoms, some experts advise using common sense before rushing to get a test.

    “If you are not very sick and believe you have not had contact with somebody who might have covid, then I would not necessarily go get a test or anything like that if you have mild respiratory symptoms,” Monto said.

    “If you are having an illness with cough and respiratory difficulty, you better get tested,” he added.

    Emily Landon, the chief infectious-disease epidemiologist at University of Chicago Medicine, offers a different view as she thinks there is value in testing those with mild symptoms.

    “What we’re finding is that the vast majority of them (COVID-19 patients) have symptoms that are very innocuous in the beginning. They don’t even count them really as symptoms. They say, ‘Oh, I thought it was just my allergies acting up,’ or something like that, and then a day or two later they feel pretty bad, and that’s when they go in and get tested,” Landon told the Post.

    However, there is consensus in people getting a flu shot this year as a preventative measure, and it’s also advised people take into account if COVID or influenza is surging in their area.

    “Across the country, one of the best things people can do is be aware of what is happening around them and in their community,” Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology told the outlet. “If flu is going around and covid is not, and someone has flu-like symptoms, the likely scenario is it is flu.”

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