How to distinguish COVID-19 from SARS and influenza and whether covid "displaces" other viruses

How to distinguish coronavirus disease from influenza and SARS? It is important to know this, because both the threat to health and the tactics of treatment for these diseases are different. Rospotrebnadzor recalled the main symptoms of these infections on the eve of the cold season.

The conventional wisdom that the coronavirus “crowds out” other respiratory infections is misguided. The COVID-19 epidemic continues, but with a cold snap, there is a high risk of both ARVI and influenza. What do you need to know about these infections?

COVID-19 and influenza: what do they have in common?

Both infections have the same transmission routes – from a sick person to a healthy person, mainly by airborne droplets, that is, it is easy to get infected if a sick person without a mask coughs, sneezes or just talks next to you. You can also get infected through fomites – surfaces contaminated with infection.

The picture of the disease is similar, which is typical for all respiratory viral infections. At the same time, both influenza and COVID-19 have a wide range of variants of the disease – from asymptomatic or mild course to serious illness with subsequent complications and death.

COVID-19 and influenza: what’s the difference?

Experts remind: influenza and COVID-19 are completely different infections. And although in both cases the source of infection is the virus, the nature of these viruses is different. And the symptoms are similar, but there are also special ones. There are differences in the course of the disease.

What are the features of both infections?

The influenza virus multiplies upon infection and begins to manifest itself rapidly. On average, the incubation period (the time from infection to the onset of the first symptoms) ranges from several hours to 1-2 days. A patient with influenza is contagious to others mainly in the first 3-5 days of illness.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is longer, ranging from 4 to 6 days, although it can be shorter or longer. A feature of the coronavirus, due to which it is difficult to prevent its spread, is that a patient with COVID-19 can isolate the virus as early as 1-4 days before the onset of symptoms, that is, at a time when he still feels healthy and leads a normal life. Hence – the requirement of epidemiologists to wear masks for everyone – both sick and healthy.

The so-called reproductive number (the number of secondary infections caused by one infected person) also differs. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has a higher capacity for infection than influenza, its reproductive number is 2-2.5. That is, one sick person infects about 2-3 people.

Influenza is by no means a harmless disease. Every year 650 thousand people die from it in the world. At the same time, the coronavirus seems to be “more harmful”. Despite the fact that both viruses have a similar set of symptoms, at least initially, the proportion of severe and critical cases is also different: there are more cases with COVID-19 than with flu. According to the data to date, 15% of cases of COVID-19 are severe, requiring oxygenation (oxygen treatment), in 5% of especially severe cases, artificial ventilation is required.

Who is at risk of being seriously ill?

The risk of severe infection with COVID-19 is increased by old age and concomitant chronic diseases. With influenza, the high-risk category, in addition to the chronic and the elderly, also includes children (who tolerate COVID-19 relatively easily). As it turned out over more than a year and a half of the epidemic, the coronavirus, like the flu, seriously threatens pregnant women. They can get seriously ill with the flu late in pregnancy. There are also observations of severe cases of COVID-19 in pregnant women or pathological conditions associated with the development of the fetus.

The main differences in symptoms of COVID-19, SARS and influenza Photo: Rospotrebnadzor

What’s new in prevention rules?

Protective measures are common to all respiratory infections. Masks and hand hygiene must be used, and crowded areas must be avoided during an epidemiological climb.

The most important thing is to get vaccinated against coronavirus infection and flu. Vaccination helps reduce the risks of severe illness for both. By being vaccinated, you not only protect yourself, but also show responsibility in relation to loved ones, family and colleagues, make sure that the infection does not spread, remind in Rospotrebnadzor.

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