With flu season upon us, it may be tough to tell the difference between a chest cold and something more serious – like the flu or COVID-19. Given the increased risk of anything that isn’t a cold, it’s important to know what to look out for.

Here’s what you need to know to keep yourself and your family healthy.

Covering the Basics
Dr. Jessica Cataldi of Children’s Hospital Colorado highlighted the similarities between each disease. “COVID can look like a lot of different things,” she explained. “And the symptoms themselves vary.”

In fact, 40 percent of infections are believed to be asymptomatic.

When the pandemic was in its infancy, the standout symptom was a dry cough. But as time passed, the CDC expanded their COVID-19 symptoms list. It now shares all the symptoms of the flu.

COVID-19 also causes a significant loss of taste and smell. This symptom is different from the mild loss caused by nasal congestion. In corona patients, the virus blocks the nervous system itself.

“People who really experience loss of taste describe things tasting very bad or strange.” Dr. Cataldi said. “It doesn’t seem to be a subtle symptom for people who have COVID.”

The most recent symptom didn’t join the list until September. Reports of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are widely reported, as well.

Without a nasal swab or antibody test, there is simply no way to know, it’s hard to know what a patient has.

When To Get Tested
If you experience any symptoms or exposure to someone with coronavirus, get tested as soon as possible. If you can’t get tested, self-isolate until you can.

It may seem like an extreme approach. But the trickiness of the symptoms combined with COVID’s high mortality rate means extreme caution is necessary.

Dr. Cataldi advised the best way to keep yourself safe is to follow the CDC’s guidelines. Staying healthy means wearing a mask, socially distancing, and regular hand washing.

And tests are more widely available than you might be aware.

“Anyone with Medicaid or Medicare covers a medical test,” Dr. Cataldi said. “And there’s plenty of testing sites. The best place to start is on the social media page of your local public health department.”

Other Safety Measures
Dr. Cataldi suggested other precautions in addition to wearing masks.

First, get a flu vaccination. “Something that seems really mild, like a cold, can become a deadly complication if you contract COVID at the same time,” she explained. Having influenza and coronavirus at the same time is much worse than either alone.

Second, be aware of the wildfires in your area. Smoke inhalation can damage your respiratory system, leaving you more vulnerable to COVID. Follow CDPHE guidelines on breathable air and evacuate if necessary.

Let’s Recap
COVID-19 shares symptoms with colds and the flu. These include fever, chills, coughing and a sore throat. But there’s no way to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. Moreover, different patients experience different symptoms at different severities.

Consequently, it’s important to get tested, even if you just suspect you’ve been exposed to the virus. This, combined with precautionary social distancing, is the only way to prevent the disease from spreading.

To further protect yourself, stay up on your vaccines and follow CDPHE and CDC guidelines. You have the power to make decisions to keep yourself healthy.

By EMILY BAUDOT, Raised in the Rockies