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Flu, Strep Throat, or COVID: What’s the Difference? 

It’s hard to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic began almost three years ago, and we’re still grappling with its impact. Amid the ongoing pandemic, different illnesses can present with similar symptoms, causing confusion and concern. In this blog, we will explore the differences between the flu, strep throat, and COVID, highlighting common symptoms and treatment options. Fortunately, we have made significant strides in diagnosing and managing these conditions, with rapid testing and treatment options available.

Flu (Influenza)

The flu, short for influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It typically occurs seasonally, primarily during the fall and winter months. While it shares some symptoms with COVID-19 and strep throat, there are distinct differences.

Common Symptoms of the Flu:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath

Treatment:

In the case of the flu, antiviral medications like Xofluza or Tamiflu are often prescribed to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter pain relievers can also help alleviate discomfort. It is crucial to rest and avoid contact with others to prevent the spread of the virus.

Image of guy experiencing a headache and other symptoms of the flu virus

Strep Throat (Streptococcal Infection)

Strep throat is a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria and is different from viral illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.

Common Symptoms of Strep Throat:

  • Severe sore throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Fever
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • White spots at the back of the mouth or on the tonsils
  • Headache

Treatment:

The primary treatment for strep throat is antibiotics, typically penicillin or amoxicillin. It is important to complete the full course of antibiotics to prevent complications and reduce the risk of spreading the infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers and rest can help manage symptoms.

image of raw and irritated throat due to strep and sore throat symptoms

COVID

COVID is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. It is not a seasonal virus as seen in most influenza cases. COVID can be contracted at any time and symptoms can range from mild to severe with some patients requiring hospitalization. 

Common Symptoms of COVID:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Treatment:

COVID management involves a multi-faceted approach. In cases where symptoms are mild to moderate, antiviral medications like Paxlovid may be prescribed. Isolation and contact tracing are essential to prevent the spread of the virus.

An image of a SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test (Self-testing kit)

Rapid Testing and Treatment Options

The importance of rapid testing cannot be overstated. Quick and accurate diagnosis is critical for isolating cases and preventing further spread. Fortunately, advancements in testing technology now allow for same-day results in many cases.

It’s essential to distinguish between the symptoms of the flu, strep throat, and COVID. Although these illnesses can present with similar signs, their causes and treatments are distinct. Rapid testing and advances in treatment options make it possible to manage these conditions more effectively. While we may still be dealing with the impact of COVID-19, these developments offer hope and a path forward in controlling and mitigating the spread of infectious diseases.

Stay safe, DFW!