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Oregon Family Magazine

Is it influenza or COVID-19?

11/01/2020 ● By Pilar Bradshaw, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Your child has a fever of 101, as well as a cough and runny nose—could it be influenza or COVID-19? That’s a common question parents will face this fall and winter, as both the flu
and COVID-19 are contagious and will be spreading throughout the seasons.

Common symptoms of BOTH influenza and COVID-19

The challenge parents and health care providers face in identifying these illnesses is that both influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, including:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

One symptom more common with COVID-19 is a loss of taste or smell; however, young children often can’t express the loss of that sensation. Compounding the matter is that both infections can cause severe symptoms in children or mild to no symptoms at all. Flu symptoms show up about 1-4 days after exposure to a sick person. COVID-19 symptoms appear about 2-14 days after exposure. Unfortunately, with both illnesses, it is often difficult to determine exactly when you or your child was exposed.

The only true way for your health care provider to determine if your child has influenza or COVID-19 is to test for it. Both viruses can be detected through various types of nasal tests, some more reliable than others. The key is to call your health care provider as soon as your child shows any symptoms of illness to arrange a medical visit and testing.

Get a flu shot

The most important difference between influenza and COVID-19 is that we have a vaccine to prevent the flu, as well as readily available antiviral drugs to help treat it. We do not have a shot or treatment to prescribe for COVID-19 at this time.

To protect your family, please take precautions by getting flu shots for everyone in your household ages 6 months and older, washing your hands often, wearing face masks in public and taking good care of your child’s general health. Call your pediatrician at the first signs of illness or if you have any questions.