Cough, cold – do I have Corona or flu?

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This autumn brings a Corona wave, numerous colds, and, soon, a flu wave.

Corona numbers are rising relentlessly, but after a two-year hiatus, there are already fears of a major comeback of the flu epidemic in Austria. “We see that the hygiene measures or their end can lead to shifts in the ‘typical’ influenza season,” explains virologist Monika Redlberger-Fritz. If there was always a wave of influenza only from January in the years before Corona, this could change this year.

But how to distinguish classical influenza from a corona infection or a simple cold? After all, the typical symptoms of cough, cold, and fever can indicate all three illnesses. The symptoms cannot be distinguished, which is why in the end, only a corona test or a visit to the doctor can provide clarity. Nevertheless, there are slight differences, for example, in the frequency of the signs of illness.

The most common symptoms of a classic cold include a cold, cough, and sore throat. Relatively rarely, there is also an elevated temperature or fever. While the incubation period here can be between two and 14 days, the illness usually lasts about a week.

In the case of Covid-19, however, the clinical picture has changed considerably in recent years with the emergence of new variants. Since Omikron and its sublines have taken over, cough, cold, sore throat, and fever should set alarm bells ringing. Headaches, aching limbs, and general weakness are now more common than shortness of breath. This can be compounded by nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or conjunctivitis.

The incubation period for Covid-19 is currently four to six days. It is impossible to make a blanket statement about how long the disease lasts. While the symptoms and the contagiousness are histories for some after ten days at the latest, others struggle with it for weeks.

While the symptoms of a cold are similar to those of a corona infection, there are few significant differences to those of influenza. Influenza often manifests as a sudden onset of illness with fever, headache, and/or aching limbs and a distinct feeling of being sick. However, a dry, irritating cough, general weakness, sweating, and a cold can also plague a person with influenza. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are infrequent – another difference from Covid-19.

In addition, the incubation period is, on average, only one to two days, and the duration of illness is usually five to seven days.

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