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Is it COVID or a cold? How to know as Omicron Cases Rise

April 25, 2022

Is it COVID or a cold? How to know as Omicron Cases Rise


No specific symptom — or lack of one — can say for sure it's COVID. You have to test.


Is it COVID or just a cold?

It's impossible to know for sure whether you have COVID-19 without a test,

"There's no specific symptom or lack of symptom that can say for sure it is COVID or not."

Right now, some of the most commonly experienced symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Sore throat.
  • Runny nose.
  • Sneezing.
  • New or worsening cough.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Temperature equal to or more than 38 C.

"Many people who have COVID infection feel almost nothing or very mild symptoms — especially if they're young and healthy — versus some people as they start to get into their 40s, 50s and upwards seem to be much more symptomatic," said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease doctor and researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

And a once telltale sign has all but disappeared.

"That loss of taste and smell, which was kind of a warning symptom of, like, this is very likely COVID … that has evolved out of the virus, where it's less prominent now," said Barrett.

What doctors say they are seeing more of with Omicron is gastrointestinal symptoms, especially diarrhea, but also vomiting and abdominal pain.

Still, the bottom line is that testing is the only way to know for sure whether you have COVID-19

If you have manageable symptoms, like a mild cold, should you still do a COVID-19 test?

Doctors say yes.

"The purpose of a rapid test is not to tell you you're not infected," said Barrett. "The purpose of a rapid test at this point is to tell you, if you do have a positive, that it's highly likely that you have Omicron, or COVID."


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And knowing that is important for several reasons. "If you're a person at high risk, getting a test would make you eligible for antiviral treatment," said Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto.

He recommends anyone who is elderly, immunocompromised, or who has multiple medical conditions to get a rapid antigen test at the very least, though a PCR would be best. Still, he said a positive rapid test "would put you in line to get these new antiviral medications," including Remdesivir or Paxlovid.

Rapid testing is also recommended if you are young or otherwise healthy!