If every sneeze and cough irks you, know that you are not alone. With panic gripping the world, especially with the number of infected people now topping millions, it is important to remain calm, stay vigilant and monitor symptoms.
Like other coronaviruses, the novel coronavirus – which causes the disease COVID-19 – is transmitted from person to person via droplets when an infected person breathes out, coughs or sneezes. It can also spread via contaminated surfaces such as door handles or railings.
Scientists in China who studied swabs from infected patients say the new coronavirus behaves quite like flu viruses, hence explaining its easy spread. Infectious disease and virus specialists estimate that each infected person is capable of infecting, on average, two to three other people.
The fact that a COVID-19 infection has an incubation period of about 14 days or more and can show no symptoms in some individuals is what makes it worrisome for public health.
So, if you're freaking out about a tickle in your throat or a runny nose, here's a handy guide about the differences between allergy, cold and flu symptoms, and the dreaded coronavirus.
Mild cases of coronavirus and the flu have been found to cause cold-like symptoms, adding to the confusion. The thing to look out for is to see if it persists. With normal illnesses, you should start feeling better with proper rest and fluids within a few days.
The common cold tends to start out with a sore or scratchy throat and runny or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are comparatively more intense and come on suddenly. Coupled with headaches, exhaustion and a dry cough, high fever and chills follow soon after. In children, the flu also may cause vomiting or diarrhea. Whereas with the novel coronavirus, symptoms may appear more slowly.
Compared to colds and allergies, coronavirus and flu symptoms also tend to be more systemic – meaning they affect the whole body. Both of them are more likely to produce symptoms in the lower respiratory tract, so think a cough, fever or shortness of breath.
If you are suffering from an acute case of coronavirus or flu, your whole body will ache and you will feel extremely drained and lethargic. If you start feeling severe muscle or joint pain, and it gets progressively worse, you might want to see a doctor and be tested for the virus.
However, if you don't feel achy at all but are sneezing your head off, have itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose to boot, you are probably just suffering from allergies or a cold.
Such symptoms, which are localized in the head, are usually regularly occurring and mild, which point to a seasonal allergy. Over-the-counter medication will help you feel better.
What's the most tell-tale sign that will differentiate coronavirus infections from the rest?
Breathing difficulties and noticeable shortness of breath. Unless you have a preexisting condition like asthma or allergies, flu is not likely to cause breathing problems. Severe cases of coronavirus can also progress to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory illness, kidney failure and death.
What must one do if they have such symptoms?
Here's a word of advice from a woman in the U.S. who managed to recover from the disease: "If your symptoms aren't life-threatening, simply stay at home, medicate with over-the-counter medicines, drink lots of water, get a lot of rest and check out the shows you want to binge-watch."
However, if you have any underlying conditions or are in a high-risk group (diabetics, the elderly, heart disease patients and those taking immunosuppressants), it's probably better to be safe than sorry and call your doctor. Just because it isn't COVID-19 doesn't mean it isn't serious.
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