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Is it the cold, flu or COVID-19?

Fever, body aches, coughing, and sore throat. What could it be? These days, figuring out whether symptoms like these could be due to a cold, flu or COVID feels like a guessing game and one that nobody likes to play. They’re all contagious illnesses caused by a virus. So, what are the differences and how can you protect yourself this winter season?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), compared to the flu, COVID-19 can cause more serious illnesses in some people. COVID-19 can also take longer before people show symptoms and they can be contagious for longer. When it comes to the common cold, sore throat and runny nose are usually the first signs, followed by coughing and sneezing. Most people recover in about 7-10 days.

“Contracting both flu and COVID-19 at the same time is very possible – and that’s something no one would want to experience,” said Manisha Raja, MD, lead staff physician, Community Medicine at Parkland Health & Hospital System. “Fortunately, flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are easily available, safe and effective. The CDC also says it’s safe to get both shots at the same time.”

Both COVID-19 and the flu can cause severe illness and complications for those at high risk. Complications can include pneumonia, respiratory failure, cardiac injury, multiple organ failure, and more. More than 770,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The CDC estimates that flu has resulted in 9 million – 41 million illnesses, 140,000 – 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 – 52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.That’s why Parkland experts stress the importance of getting vaccinated this winter season.

Those at high risk include:

  • Older adults
  • People with certain underlying medical conditions (including infants and children)
  • Pregnant women

Thanks to social distancing and masking, last winter was one of the mildest flu seasons ever recorded. Through March 2021, Dallas County Health and Human Services reported only two flu cases and no deaths, compared with 18,186 cases and 25 deaths during the previous flu season. However, Parkland experts believe flu will be back to more normal levels this winter.

“In addition to getting flu and COVID vaccinations, we can reduce the risk of getting sick this winter by washing our hands often, avoiding close contact with sick people, and not touching our face with unwashed hands,” Dr. Raja said. “Most importantly, if you’re sick, stay home.”

Another respiratory ailment that surges during cold weather months is the common cold, with millions of cases in the U.S. each year. On average, adults have 2-3 colds per year and children have even more. Most cases are during the winter and spring, but it’s possible to catch this icky illness any time of the year.

So, when do you need to seek medical care? Here are some of the warning signs that require immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pain in the chest or abdomen
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

“With the holidays approaching we encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Raja. “Getting vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19 is safe and easy. The last thing we want is for you to spend your holidays in a hospital bed.”

Individuals can receive their COVID-19 vaccine at any of Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers located throughout Dallas County. For more information on where to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or a booster for those eligible, please visit www.parklandhospital.com/covid-19-vaccines.

Walk-in-Wednesday clinics at Parkland’s COPC’s are offering flu vaccines. Dallas County residents can get their flu shot without an appointment and at no cost from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday during flu season. Parkland patients can also get their flu shot with an appointment at their Parkland COPC provider’s office. To find the Parkland COPC nearest you, visit www.parklandhospital.com/locations

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