Fall virus symptoms share similarities with COVID

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The sneezing, sniffling, aches and pains season is upon us, and the multiple ways a person can get sick this winter often share similar symptoms with COVID-19.

Telling the difference between a cold, the flu, bacterial infections and the coronavirus presents unique challenges to local health officials, especially since residents should not walk into area health facilities without talking to their doctor first.

Cough, congestion, fever, difficulty breathing, headache, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath and body aches – they can be signs of influenza, rhinovirus (the common cold), and COVID-19. Children may also get RSV which exhibits these symptoms; some bacterial infections such as pneumonia also share many of these signs.

All of these viruses can be dangerous to individuals with compromised immune systems or older residents.

The one symptom that leans more strongly toward COVID-19 is the loss of taste or smell, Dr. Sandra McIntyre of Barrett Hospital and HealthCare said.

“That can sometimes be the only symptom you have,” she said. “That is a trigger for us. We’ve noticed with people who have it – it’s not subtle.”

McIntyre said hospital staff are seeing a lot of cases of the common cold so far this year, in addition to the recent increase of COVID-19 positive cases in the community.

Self-diagnosis is not recommended; McIntyre encouraged residents to call their provider and explain what symptoms they have. There are a number of tests available to determine if the illness is viral or bacterial, and there are specific tests for COVID-19.

COVID-specific testing can be done at Barrett Hospital, Southwest Montana Community Medical Center or Beaverhead County Public Health. Tests for COVID are for those with symptoms only at this time. McIntyre said individuals should call their doctor first, who can order this or other tests for a sick individual (see related story).

Treatment for the different viruses are usually for the symptoms, since the majority do not have vaccines available, McIntyre said. The one exception is influenza – though that vaccine may not keep a person from getting the flu, they may end up with a milder case than if they were not vaccinated. There is also Tamiflu, which can reduce the severity of influenza if administered early. Bacterial illnesses are treated with antibiotics.

“If there was ever any year to get your flu shot, this is the year,” she added.