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Your Covid-19 questions answered

Do I have Covid-19 or ‘just flu’?

30 June 2021 - 07:00 By kyle zeeman
Covid-19 and flu symptoms can be similar. Stock photo.
Covid-19 and flu symptoms can be similar. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Diego_cervo

As the winter flu season grips Mzansi during a surge in Covid-19 infections, it can be difficult to tell if you are suffering from flu or Covid-19.

According to Dr Marlin McKay, who runs his own medical practice in Roodepoort, it is better to err on the side of caution.

He told TimesLIVE that while the symptoms are similar, there are differences.

“If you look at influenza, there is a quick onset, high temperature, severe body aches and pains and severe headaches. You feel like a bus hit you. The nose is generally dry.

“With Covid-19, there is more nasal congestion, not as much fever, but there are headaches.”

He said the golden rule is: when in doubt, isolate and get medical treatment.

“The impact of missing a Covid-19 diagnosis can be devastating on families because they could continue going out thinking they have flu. My policy is everything is Covid-19 until proven otherwise.

“If you miss a flu diagnosis it is not too bad, but if you miss a Covid-19 diagnosis it can be catastrophic. If that person goes out and infects someone with comorbidities, they could die. I test anyone with symptoms suggestive of Covid-19.”

McKay said patients often use the word flu for several respiratory issues so if they are showing symptoms, he suggests they test for Covid-19 and then discusses what condition they have.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) recommends all those have flu-like symptoms to see a doctor as soon as possible, and to get tested for Covid-19 if they show symptoms and have:

  • been in contact with a person who has Covid-19;
  • travelled to a high-risk country;
  • worked in or been to a healthcare facility treating people with Covid-19; or
  • have a severe case of pneumonia from an unknown cause.