By Dr. Michele Dikkers, Physician at Cornerstone Family Practice and GMHC, Chair of Clayton County Board of Health
Growing up we had to be about dead before we went to the doctor. Slap a bandage on it, put menthol vapor rub on your chest or put an ice bag on it. A runny nose, sniffles or a cough was no reason to stay home.
Then we learned about COVID. Now we stop and wonder. Could it be a cold? Influenza? Strep throat? Mono? COVID? Oh my.
Since COVID-19, the guidelines have changed. If you are sick, stay home. Get tested. Wait until you are well, then return to the world. Like any habit, it is difficult to make change. But there are good reasons for the changes in our thought process.
Symptoms can be similar initially, but the outcomes can be very different. They can all start with cough, body aches, fever, headache and sore throat. But influenza and COVID may have a more serious end result.
Incubation time (time from exposure until symptoms start) is typically 1-4 days, unless it is COVID, then it can be 2-14 days.
With most of these illnesses, you can be contagious for 2 days prior to illness and for 3-5 days after illness starts. With COVID, you may be contagious from 2 days prior to illness and up to 10 days after illness onset (up to 14-21 if with persistent symptoms or severe illness).
Symptoms last for 3-7 days, with the exception of COVID. Symptoms of COVID, on average, last 1-6 weeks. There can be long term symptoms that may last months after the acute illness is over.
When it comes to hospitalizations, 2% of those diagnosed with influenza will be hospitalized for 4-7 days, compared to 19% of the COVID diagnosis’ needing hospitalizations for 2-3 weeks.
Fatality rate of influenza is 0.1%, while the fatality rate of COVID-19 is nearly 3%.
Treatments for these illnesses vary. There are antivirals for influenza, antibiotics for strep throat, monoclonal antibodies for COVID and, coming soon, the new oral medication recently developed to help decrease hospitalizations and deaths from COVID. All depend on starting treatment sooner than later. Treatment for influenza should be started within the first 72 hours. Treatment for COVID-19 should be within the first 7 -10 days. Treatment for influenza and COVID are to decrease severity of symptoms and won’t cure it but can significantly reduce need for hospitalizations and death as an outcome.
So, rethinking how we think about cold symptoms, the new recommendations are to stay home if you have any symptoms. Be seen by your medical provider and get tested. Getting tested allows for the best treatment options to be offered and improve outcomes.
Continue to be vigilant and continue to avoid getting sick. Stay home if you are sick, continue with good hand washing, cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, wear a mask when you are in public places and update your vaccines.
Stay safe, be well and be kind to each other.