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A cold, or Covid-19? How to know the difference



Cold and flu season makes the pandemic more complicated

Cold and flu season makes the pandemic more complicated


I was recently teaching a child of 11 who had the sniffles. We were both masked and distanced. I felt bad for him, because while my mind kept telling me it’s very, very likely just a cold (it was), another, Covid-19-influenced voice was advising me to get away, fast. You know that voice. The one that says, you can’t be too careful, and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Although we didn’t speak about it, the child knew he was in the unfortunate position of being a person with a cold in the Age of Covid-19. Usually engaged, he was shy and embarrassed, and bolted when it was time to leave.

Going forward, there will be more kids like him, as cold and flu season runs its course alongside the pandemic. And in part because Covid-19 symptoms differ wildly from person to person, and can mimic everything from the flu to a cold to other illnesses, it’s easy to understand how parents will be on edge, wondering if they should keep a child home, isolate them from siblings or take them to the doctor.

Writing for Popsugar, and taking her info from a Harvard study, Karen Schweitzer has some helpful tips for parents. “If your child has a fever,” she writes, “they should stay home. Chances are high that it is not the coronavirus, but they are still contagious. Many schools and pediatric offices are recommending that children with a persistent cough or runny nose should remain at home as well. Although that might seem more extreme — what preschooler isn't a boogery mess most days?! — it's simply an added step to mitigating risk.”

READ MORE: Covid-19 vaccine: a guide for parents

Dr. Claire McCarthy, MD, a primary care pediatrician who is also a professor at Harvard University, also has some practical, empathetic advice: “Not only is staying home and resting the best way to get better, but also you don't want to panic others by having your child cough in their child's face.”

The big question, of course, is: under what circumstances do I take my child to the doctor? Here’s a list:

  • any trouble breathing (rapid or heavy breathing, sucking in around the neck or ribs)

  • a severe cough that won't stop or that interferes with sleep or play

  • a high fever that won't come down even with medication

  • unusual sleepiness

  • any signs of dehydration (refusal to take fluids, dry mouth, not urinating at least every six hours, no tears when crying)

Also: “Covid toes,” where they are purple, blue, or there are red lesions appearing on patients' toes. Oddly, health experts now believe this may be a way to diagnose the infection, as they have appeared in otherwise asymptomatic and severe cases alike.

Schweitzer emphasizes that Covid-19 in children is still remarkably rare. Nevertheless, good information from reliable sources is key to mitigating at least some anxieties, and we’ll take whatever we can get in that department.



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