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The flu or COVID-19? Doctors weigh in on the illnesses while nearing flu season

TAMPA, Fla. — Do you have the flu, a common cold, or is it COVID-19?

As we get closer to our typical winter flu season, Tampa Bay doctors say there’s a lot of overlap between the illnesses.

“If you feel off, if you feel achy, tired, fatigued, something doesn’t feel right, it really does always have to be in the back of your head right now that this could be COVID because there is such a wide range of presenting symptoms,” said Dr. Lisa Cronin of Children’s Medical Center.

Dr. Cronin explains the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19, even a cold, can blend together. The CDC shared a list of common symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu: fever, cough, shortness of breath, runny or stuffy nose, and a headache. It lists a change in or loss of smell or taste as a possible other symptoms for COVID-19.

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Dr. Cronin says where someone has been for the past 14 days will be important for physicians to know.

“Do they have contacts at school that have been positive for COVID? Do they have contacts on the sports team? Do the parents work in a high-risk field where there may have been a household contact? said Dr. Cronin. “Those are the questions that are really raising our index of suspicion for whether or not someone has COVID or potentially another viral illness.”

Additionally, Cronin notes if someone is immunocompromised, has pre-existing conditions, or is in a higher risk group may be someone who’d benefit from getting a test sooner rather than later.

“For people who have the ability to be completely at home, and they can self-isolate, they’re not going out, they’re having limited contact with other people because they’re working from home or they’re eLearning, and they have no other pre-existing conditions, and it’s just a little bit of sniffles, those people can probably wait 24 to 48 hours and see what happens,” said Cronin.

Dr. Cronin says anyone with severe symptoms should seek help regardless of the illness. She says the next four to six weeks is also a great time to get a flu shot.

“This is a finite period of time. We will get passed this, but the more effort we can put into it as a community at this time point in time, the faster that’s going to happen,” said Dr. Cronin.

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