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Differences between COVID-19, flu and colds

As summer ends, many of us might catch something.

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When fall and winter sends many of us indoors more often, we spend more time with others in closed and public spaces. Since COVID-19, we’re doing more to keep ourselves safe. But we still can come down with other things such as allergies, the flu or a cold.   

“We get a lot of questions from people who are worried they have COVID-19,” said Efrem Castillo, MD, senior medical director, Optum. “Luckily, that's usually not the case.”

But how do you know what's causing that sneeze, fever or achy feeling?

“It's impossible to tell by signs and symptoms alone,” Dr. Castillo said. “If you have new symptoms, get tested for COVID-19. This is especially important if you think you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19.”

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When to get care for COVID-19

If you have any of these warning signs for COVID-19, get care right away:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Can't wake up or can't stay awake
  • Blue lips or face
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How do I know what's making me feel sick?

The flu, COVID-19 and the common cold are all contagious. They share many symptoms, so the best way to tell if a person is sick with the flu, COVID-19 or a cold is with a simple test. Talk to your doctor about what tests are right for you.

Learn more about the differences between:

Will Medicare cover COVID-19 tests?

Medicare covers lab tests for COVID-19. You pay no extra money. Medicare Advantage plans do, too. You pay nothing extra. 

Don't wait. Get your flu shot.

Get your flu shot at an Optum location near you.

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.