Special to The Dallas Examiner
It’s a new year but respiratory viruses are still present with flu activity peaking between December and February. But could that cough, runny nose or body aches indicate it’s flu, cold or COVID-19?
These three sicknesses have two things in common – they are contagious respiratory illnesses and share similar symptoms, making it hard to know what exactly a person has.
“It’s difficult to differentiate the symptoms between a cold, flu and COVID because many symptoms overlap,” said Cristina Tamez, MD, a pediatrician at Parkland Health. “Cold symptoms are typically milder than flu symptoms. If you have a cold, you typically have a runny or stuffy nose and don’t run the risk of serious health problems.”
Symptoms of a cold tend to appear more gradually, whereas flu symptoms show up abruptly. Common symptoms they share are fatigue, cough, stuffy nose and a sore throat.
But how about COVID? Compared with the flu, those with COVID may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for a longer period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are also overlapping warning signs between flu and COVID, varying from no symptoms to severe symptoms. “The best way to know what you have is to get tested,” she said. “A patient can ask their provider about the flu or COVID test if they are interested.”
If someone with a chronic disease like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, or suspects they have a respiratory illness, Tamez suggests scheduling an appointment with their provider.
“There is an antiviral medication called Tamiflu that can be given to a person within the first 48 hours of contracting the flu. It attacks the virus to keep it from multiplying in the body and helps reduce symptoms,” Tamez said.
Recently, she said that at Hatcher Station Health Center, providers have been seeing more positive flu cases than positive COVID cases.
Influenza activity increased in the county with 12.9% of influenza tests returning positive, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services’ most recent influenza surveillance report for December 2022.
“People can also take it upon themselves to take personal precautions to keep others safe. We learned a lot throughout the pandemic about washing our hands, covering our cough or sneeze, wearing a mask in big crowds or public areas and keeping our distance,” she explained.
Another way to help reduce the spread of these respiratory viruses is to get vaccinated.
“There’s this ongoing myth that the flu vaccine makes you sick. The flu vaccine contains a dead virus so it can’t give you the flu,” Tamez said. “It takes two to three weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect and that’s why we recommend getting it as early as October.”
Some mild side effects of the flu vaccine may include mild soreness or muscle aches, which can be confused with symptoms of the flu but that is just the body reacting to the shot. The flu vaccine is recommended annually for anyone six months and older, including pregnant women.
Parkland has ongoing efforts to keep Dallas County residents safe by providing access to flu shots at no cost. The system operates several community-based health centers offering the vaccine during Walk-in-Wednesdays with no appointment needed.
Tamez said the flu vaccine works similarly to the COVID vaccine. It doesn’t stop someone from getting the flu, rather it helps reduce the severity of the symptoms, complications and chances of someone ending up in the hospital if they get the flu.
“Getting the COVID or flu vaccine is like putting on your seatbelt. Just because you have your seatbelt on it doesn’t mean you won’t be in a car accident, but it does help reduce injury and even save lives,” Tamez said.
Parkland offers a variety of health and education screenings and community resources in several neighborhoods across Dallas County through the Access to Care & Coverage Program. All services at the community pop-ups are at no cost to the individual.
Hours and days of operation at each pop-up vary:
- Every second and fourth Wednesday from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at Janie C. Turner Recreation Center, 6424 Elam Road.
- Thursdays from 3:30 p.m.-6 p.m. at John C. Phelps Recreation Center, 3030 Tips Blvd.
- Thursdays from 9 a.m.-noon at DHA Buckeye Commons, 6676 Buckeye Commons Way
- Tuesday at Inspired Vision Compassion Center, 2019 N. Masters Drive.
- Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-noon at CitySquare, 1610 S. Malcolm X Blvd.
- Thursdays from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. at DHA Park Manor, 3333 Edgewood St.
- Fridays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Catholic Charities Marillac Community Center, 2483 Lapsley St.
For information about the flu shot, visit www.parklandhealth.org/stop-the-flu.