Canadian doctor describes differences between COVID-19 and the flu

Here’s a question for you, do you know the difference between the symptoms of the common flu compared to COVID-19?

There are a lot of similarities between the two but also some differences, which does make diagnosing the two difficult for medical professionals.

Judging by the rainy weather pouring over Vancouver Island, we’re heading straight into cold and flu season.

CTV News went to Cook Street Village in Victoria and asked people about the upcoming flu season.

“I think, in general for the community, absolutely it is a big concern,” said Rebecca Salmond.

The next question we asked was, “Do you know the difference between COVID symptoms and cold and flu symptoms?”

Georgina Wonnacott gave a straight answer, “No.”

Salmond similarly said, “To be honest, I don’t really know.”

Felicity Howell, another Victoria resident, said, “I think there’s a lot of similarities.”

Dr. Tasleem Nimjee, an emergency physician with Humber River Hospital in North York, ON, agrees – there are many similarities.

“It’s tricky,” said Nimjee. “We’re moving into our first experience where we’re seeing both of these things, [COVID-19 and cold and flu season], coinciding at the same time.”

According to Nimjee, the common flu will likely cause upper respiratory symptoms, like congestion, runny nose and sneezing.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 symptoms are generally lower respiratory track symptoms, such as a cough or shortness of breath.

Unfortunately coughing, fatigue and fever can be symptoms of both.

“When we’re looking at these two viral illnesses, influenza and the coronavirus – in this case COVID-19 – we don’t have a whole slew of those different symptoms that help us to sort of separate the two out,” said Nimjee.

Another common COVID-19 symptom we’ve all heard of is loss of taste or smell.

“You’re right about the loss of sense of taste or smell, but not everybody with COVID has that,” said Nimjee. “It’s not a super common symptom so you can’t use that to help you to figure out which path you fall into or which group you fall into.”

The major difference medical doctors have seen between the two viruses is mortality rates.

“COVID is a disease with higher mortality,” said the emergency physician.

The most vulnerable groups are the same for both influenza and COVID-19, those with compromised immune systems and the elderly.

It’s not all bad news though. Nimjee says she is seeing behavioural changes across Canada that are making a difference, and that is leading to optimism in the medical community.

In Australia, which is used as a flu season predictor for North America, an increase in hygiene, physical distancing and mask wearing led to virtually no flu cases during its recent flu season. 

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