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Managing winter-related respiratory infections during the pandemic

Managing winter-related respiratory infections during the pandemic

Covid-19 shares similarities with cold and influenza, common respiratory conditions associated with the winter season. Health professionals should keep an eye open on the potential overlap of symptoms.

Our role as health professionals is to reassure patients who may be concerned about cold and flu symptoms. These respiratory conditions, if managed effectively, can be resolved within a couple of days/week if there are no pre-existing conditions. However, as winter approaches, given the potential overlap of symptoms with COVID-19, patients may be concerned about the cause. It is vital to identify the main differences between the symptoms of colds, flu and COVID-19, to properly advise, treat or refer patients. Above all, ensure that you are fully protected before interacting with the patient.

First of all, exclude potential COVID-19 infection by looking at the history of the current illness such as the date of symptom onset. It is important to figure out if the patient has had contact with known COVID-19 case or with an immediate family member who has same symptoms. Take time to have an in-depth conversation with the patient to assess whether the symptoms are indicative of COVID-19, if the patient is a known contact of a confirmed case or if you can connect the symptoms to viral infections such as cold or flu.

If your assessment points to Covid-19 infections, you should follow the government protocols and ensure that the patient is rapidly directed to the authorities.

However, if you suspect other viral infections, you should still pursue your investigation. It remains crucial to determine whether the patient has a cold or flu, then to ensure they do not have symptoms that necessitate further investigation before recommending treatment.

It is important to show empathy and reassure patients that symptoms are not indicative of COVID-19 and that isolation and testing are not necessary. Remind the patient of normal symptom durations and check they know when to seek further help (for example if symptoms worsen or if they have trouble in breathing).

Share measures they can take to control cold/flu symptoms such as staying at home to recover, maintaining hand hygiene, throwing away used tissues, etc. Take the time to discuss pharmacological options, including available pharmacy and over the counter products and medicines that may help relieve symptoms.

Try these useful questions

  • Have you been vaccinated against the flu?
  • How suddenly did the symptoms begin?
  • Have you recently been in contact with someone with the flu?
  • Is anyone you live with unwell?
  • Are you able to smell and taste as normal?
  • Has anyone you have had close contact with tested for COVID-19?
Cold, flu or Covid-19: what are the differences?
FLU COLD COVID-19
Cough Cough Fever
Body aches and pain Sneezing,Runny & stuffy nose Body aches/Headaches-sometimes
Fever and chills Shortness of breath-sometimes
Fatigue Cough
Runny,Stuffy nose-sometimes Sore throat-sometimes
Headaches Sore throat Nausea or vomiting-sometimes
Dirrhoea Fever unlikely Diarrhea
Rapid onset of symptoms Symptoms appear gradually Loss of smell & taste
Symptoms improve within 7 to 14 days Symptoms improve within 7 to 14 days Symptoms range from mild to severe
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