Is it a Cold, the Flu, or Covid-19?

October 30, 2020

Here’s a simple, common-sense guide.

Let your body be your guide

Suppose someone in your pod wakes up feeling off with a scratchy throat, runny nose, or cough. Is it the beginning of a common cold, the flu, or Covid-19? Statistically, adults average two to three upper respiratory tract infections a year and young children eight or more with a peak incidence in the fall and winter. Because symptoms overlap and severity varies, differentiating between them can be difficult, yet the consequences may be serious. What to do?

My father used to say: you’re not any smarter during a fire than you were before. So my roomies and I sat down to make a plan and we came up with a simple common-sense guide that can be modified for family, work, school, or other settings.

·      Establish an early warning system: First thing each morning, take a few deep breaths and check your membranes. How’s your nasal passages, sinuses, and throat feel? Notice any residual muscle soreness from the previous day? How’s your energy level? Are you enthusiastic to take on the day? Establishing a normal baseline is your first line of defense. And spoiler alert: Drinking caffeine will muddy the waters.

·      If you feel off, let people around you know (perhaps with a text), wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, and minimize the time you spend in common areas.

As a rule of thumb, it takes three days to get a cold, three days to have it, and three days to get over it. During the prodrome, a hot bath, a cup of hot ginger tea, sweat, and extra sleep can work wonders. But be forewarned: if you awaken feeling better, go slow because if you pick up speed too soon, it could come back to bite you a few days later. Quickly pulling in your sails and resting will help regardless of what ails you. Remember: the body doesn’t lie; and it takes surplus energy to heal! 

The flu (influenza) usually comes on fast and furious, knocking a person flat on their back in 24-36 hours with fever, headache, sore throat, congestion, cough, and muscle aches. The flu is like a cold but much more painful and intense, like being worked over with a ball-peen hammer and feeling that if you were in a weakened state, it could kill you. 

Covid-19 is a wild card. Roughly half (45 percent) of the time it is entirely asymptomatic, or it can come on slowly similar to a cold. A common pattern is for a person to have relatively mild, cold-like symptoms for a week, begin to feel better and then rapidly deteriorate with a “cytokine storm” that fills the lungs with inflammation and may require hospitalization. Helpful clues can be a loss of smell or taste, which occur in two-thirds of cases. Sneezing suggests a cold as it is unusual with Covid-19 or the flu.

For a helpful comparison chart click here

·      If you experience shortness of breath contact your doctor. Difficulty breathing is a medical emergency!

·      When in doubt, get a Covid test. But which one and when?

The timing and type of testing are crucial. Testing too soon or too late and the results are unreliable. The sweet spot is somewhere around 4-5 days after symptoms first appear, which significantly decreases false-negative and false-positive results. 

Rapid Antigen Tests measure fragments of the Covid-19 virus and can provide a result in 15 minutes. A positive test in a symptomatic person is likely accurate and the person has Covid because the false-positive rate is low. However, a negative test is less reliable due to a higher false-negative rate and may miss a true infection. 

PCR Tests measure viral RNA and are the gold standard, but results take 24-48 hrs. 

Here’s a good article on when to test 

·      Where to get tested and costs:

A good place to start is to contact your health insurance company. 

The State of Colorado offers free Covid-19 testing, which you can learn about here 

If you are willing to pay $126 out of pocket with no insurance reimbursement, Quest Direct offers an accurate PCR Test with either an in-person or an at-home, mail-in test kit with a three-day turnaround. 

·      Don’t live in fear.

With good communications, early self-quarantining, and common sense you can avoid unnecessary stress and confusion, protect your loved ones, and manage the unique challenges of this winter season. 

·      And may I suggest:

If you’re looking for a good book to cozy up with on a cold night, I recommend my newly released aah . . . The Pleasure Book. It offers an inspiring message of hope that speaks to our highest human potential and provides practical tips on how to enjoy the ordinary pleasures that abound, which is especially helpful during this time of contagion. 

Stay tuned for exciting book news coming your way. 


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