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Fever confusion: Difference between COVID19-related fever & the common flu

Fever COVID19 flu

During the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, every onset of fever should be suspected and investigated for the virus. Fevers commonly associated with the monsoon related illnesses include Malaria, Dengue, Leptospirosis, Enteric Fever, viral Hepatitis, etc. When presented, these fevers must be investigated and timely treatment must be sought. Understanding of medical history and evaluations will help in differentiating the cause of fever, and decide on the treatment process. A basic laboratory investigation for monsoon related illnesses will help differentiate the cause of fever.

Understanding the difference between Influenza (Flu) and fever related to COVID-19?

Both contagious illnesses of the respiratory tract, Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by the infection of a novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) whereas, the flu is caused by the Influenza viruses. As some of the symptoms are similar between Flu and COVID-19, it could be hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone; hence, testing is required to confirm diagnosis. While characteristics are similar, there are key differences between the two and more is being learned every new day.

Let’ understand the similarities & differenced in signs and symptoms amongst the two:

Similarities:

– COVID-19 and Flu may have varying degrees of signs and symptoms; from no symptoms (being asymptomatic) to showcasing severe symptoms.

– Onset of Fever or chills

– Cough

– Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

– Fatigue

– Sore throat and runny or stuffy nose

– Muscle pain or body aches

– Headache

– Vomiting and diarrhoea (though this is more common in children than adults)

Differences:

– The Flu virus may cause mild to severe illness, comprising the signs and symptoms listed above

– Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 those different from flu may include loss of taste or smell

Who is at high-risk of severe illness?

– COVID-19 and flu can cause severe illness and complications. People at a higher risk include older adults, people with certain underlying medical conditions and pregnant women

– For healthy children, the risk of complications is higher in Flu as opposed to COVID-19. For infants and children with underlying medical conditions, there is grave risk of being infected with Flu and COVID-19.

– Young children are at higher risk of severe illness from flu

– School-aged children infected with COVID-19 are at higher risk of Multi system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but severe complication of COVID-19

Know the complications:

Also read: Kerala gets first dedicated COVID-19 hospital

Many who get the Flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. However, some may develop complications. Additional complications associated with COVID-19 may cause blood clotting in the veins or arteries of the Heart, Lungs, Legs or Brain as well as cause Multi system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). COVID-19 and Flu can result in complications that include:

– Pneumonia

– Respiratory failure

– Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (i.e. fluid in lungs)

– Sepsis

– Heart Attack or Stroke

– Multi-organ failure

– Worsening of existing chronic medical conditions (involving the Lungs, Heart, nervous system or Diabetes)

– Inflamed Heart, Brain or muscle tissues

– Secondary bacterial infections (super added bacterial infections along with flu /covid 19 for the second time)

Understand the treatment:

For those at a high-risk of complications or those hospitalized for either COVID-19 or Flu should receive supportive medical care to help relieve symptoms and complications if any.

Influenza antiviral drugs such as Oseltamavir are FDA-approved to treat Flu, and are prescribed as per the course is advised by a doctor. For COVID-19, treatment guidelines have been developed by The National Institute of Health (NIH) & Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Remdesivir, an antiviral agent is being explored as a treatment for COVID-19 and is available under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), whereas experts use Favipiravir for mild cases. There are currently no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent or treat COVID-19, studies are in progress to learn more.

(Disclaimer: The author is Dr Sandeep Patil, Chief Intensivist and Physician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)

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