Ask the Pharmacist

Q. With so many illnesses going around, how can I tell if I have Covid19, just a cold, the flu, strep throat or …..?

A. As many experts predicted, there are a growing number of illnesses going around many communities now. With mask mandates essentially lifted, this should come as no surprise. Masks (and hand washing) help prevent most infections from spreading, not just COVID, and their use will help keep you healthy. But what does one do when you do become sick?

Treatment for all of these conditions differs so it is important to identify which is causing your symptoms. The problem lies in the fact that many of the aforementioned illnesses have symptoms in common with each other. Most experts will attest that they truly cannot differentiate between the many infections just by examining the patient. Performing a test for the variety of ailments is the only sure way of knowing.

For many years, we have been able to diagnose the bacterial infection known as strep throat caused by swabbing the throat. If it turns out to be positive, since it is a bacterial infection, an antibiotic is prescribed which will help you feel better, prevent spreading strep throat to others and prevent complications.

Most of us by now have picked up a box or two of rapid tests for Covid19 and have performed the dreaded deed of shoving the swab up each nostril to get a sample and performing the test in the “comfort” of our own home. If you feel unwell, go ahead and test yourself. If you produce a negative result and have not had confirmation of other ailments, it is suggested that you test each day to rule out COVID-19 as you may not have had enough viral load to produce a positive result the first time (or second, or third) you tested.

Over the last two plus years, we have been trying to ascertain the differences between COVID-19 and the common cold. Recall that the common cold is indeed a coronavirus, as is COVID-19, it’s just not anywhere close to as lethal. The common cold continues to mutate much like we see with COVID-19 which is why we can catch the common cold more than once in a season. There isn’t, at present, a home or lab test to perform that can confirm the presence of the common cold coronavirus. There are also no specific treatments. Just stay at home, keep hydrated, take over the counter medications as needed and give yourself some tender loving care.

The seasonal culprit that bestows us with its presence each year is the influenza virus. There is a viral culture that can be performed in a lab to confirm if you do indeed have the flu but most people will just stay at home if they are unwell and only seek medical attention if the symptoms worsen to a point that they are unable to manage it at home such as difficulty breathing.

All of the above ailments (strep throat, COVID-19, common cold and influenza) have such similarities. Since we do have the opportunity to perform the COVID-19 rapid test at home for free, that is the best place to start. If the result is negative, compare your symptoms to the following list to see which condition most likely is a match.

SYMPTOM COVID-19 COLD FLU
HEADACHE USUALLY RARE USUALLY
COUGH USUALL(dry) USUALLY USUALLY
ACHES USUALLY SOMETIMES USUALLY
FATIGUE USUALLY SOMETIMES USUALLY
SNEEZING RARELY USUALLY USUALLY
SORE THROAT USUALLY USUALLY USUALLY
NASAL SYMP. USUALLY USUALLY USUALLY
FEVER USUALLY SOMETIMES USUALLY
NAUSEA/ VOM. SOMETIMES NEVER SOMETIMES
LOSS TASTE/SMELL USUALLY SOMETIMES RARELY
DIARRHEA SOMETIMES NEVER SOMETIMES

With respect to strep throat, this is more likely the culprit when you have pain when swallowing, swollen red tonsils (sometimes with streaks of pus or white patches), tiny red spots on the roof of your mouth, swollen & tender lymph nodes at the front of the neck & a rash. Lean towards a different self-diagnosis when you are coughing, having difficulty breathing, congested or have noted a new loss in your sense of smell or taste. The rest of streps symptoms (fever, fatigue..) are a lot like the other infections.

Regardless of what ailment you wind up having, be kind to your fellow housemates, school mates, daycare mates and work mates and stay home. We realize that staying home is easier said than done when we are in the throes of an economic slowdown with soaring food and gas prices all while sick pay is still not a reality for many. That makes it a very tough predicament. Especially when most of us will come out on the other end of a common cold, flu or even COVID-19 relatively unscathed. But there are people that we need to concern ourselves with (the elderly, the immunocompromised …) and help protect them from these ailments.  Going out in public puts them at risk and they are far less likely to come through these infections harm free.

Other ways we can help to reduce the severity of some of the above ailments is to keep up to date on the COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations. Getting vaccinated does not mean that you will not get COVID-19 or the flu but you will likely fare much better for having done so. Gordon Pharmasave now has both the Moderna Bivalent (which also offers protection against Omicron BA-1) and the Pfizer Bivalent (which also offers protection against Omicron BA-4 and BA-5) and we do have the influenza vaccine for this season. To register for any of the vaccines, go to our website gordon-pharmasave.com and click on the red “Register Now To Be Contacted For A COVID-19 or Influenza Vaccine Appointment” and follow the prompts. Or go to bookmyshot.com and once again follow the prompts. This process will not allow you to book an appointment yet but rather put you on our waitlist.

For more information on this or any other health related topic contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination.