The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and a dry cough. A sore throat, a headache and shortness of breath are other common elements.

As anyone who has ever suffered through allergies, a common cold or a flu can tell you, those conditions share traits with COVID-19.

So how can you tell the difference whether you’re suffering from allergies or just getting sick with a cold — or carrying the virus that is part of a worldwide pandemic?

No. 1, according to the World Health Organization, symptoms of the virus do not normally match up exactly with those of a common cold. With COVID-19, aches and pains, fever and a dry cough are most prominent.

Allergies vs COVID-19

In regard to allergies, while they can cause a cough, they do not cause a fever or a sore throat.

And COVID-19 is not connected with the itchy eyes, itchy nose and sneezing typically associated with allergies.

“It’s very important that every single person on the planet knows what signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious diseases epidemiologist with the WHO. “The symptoms of COVID-19 are not sneezing and having a runny nose.”

Colds vs COVID-19

Differentiating among a cold, allergies, influenza and COVID-19 is important for everyday people. It’s also vital for clinicians trying to manage the spread of the virus.

“The initial symptoms can be very similar with a fever, a cough and shortness of breath,” said Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford Health chief medical officer, during a live Facebook question-and-answer session on Sunday afternoon. “That’s where things start to differentiate. The difference with influenza is that we have a vaccine. We also have treatment — Tamiflu can be helpful, depending on the year.”

The potential severity of the illness is also increased with COVID-19 in comparison to influenza. In this case it means within high-risk populations, COVID-19 can be very concerning.

Flu vs COVID-19

“It can be hard to tell as a clinician, if you’re dealing with a patient with influenza or the coronavirus,” Dr. Suttle said. “Oftentimes we will rule out influenza — it’s a quick test we can do right away at the clinic.”

Typically, after crossing off influenza, a clinician will begin asking specific questions pertaining to the coronavirus in order to decide whether a COVID-19 test is necessary.

Dr. Suttle said Sanford has been working with health departments in the states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota in facilitating the tests and have experienced good turnaround times. They’d still like to get results more quickly, however.

Sanford has partnered with Quest Diagnostics to be able to provide testing for our outpatient setting.

What to do if you have COVID-19 symptoms

After reviewing COVID-19 symptoms, if you suspect you may have contracted the virus, we have the following recommendations:

1. Call Your health care provider. If you are a local Wahpeton Sanford patient, you may call (701) 642-7000. Outside of normal clinic hours you may call My Sanford Nurse at (800) 445-5788 to reach an experienced Sanford Health nurse over the phone. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, nurses will assess symptoms and answer health questions. Sanford Wahpeton clinic is prepared to offer curbside testing for any patients that are deemed necessary for COVID-19 testing.

2. If you have shortness of breath or another emergency, call 911.

Mick Garry is a marketing content writer for Sanford Health

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