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Is it Covid or a cold? Nothing is straightforward about symptoms over this winter


There are fears that winter viruses have the potential to spread like wildfire in the coming months. Stock image

There are fears that winter viruses have the potential to spread like wildfire in the coming months. Stock image

There are fears that winter viruses have the potential to spread like wildfire in the coming months. Stock image

The common cold has made a comeback after lying passive last winter as we were cocooned in lockdown or limited by Covid-19 restrictions.

GPs and pharmacists are reporting a rise in patients with sore throats and coughs.

Now we are mixing more, and our immune systems may leave us more vulnerable to catching colds after being ­protected for so long.

But could it be Covid? How do you know you have the ‘not-Covid cold’?


Blast of winter

The predictions are that more of us may have to take to the bed with a hot drink this winter as more viral illnesses of the non-Covid kind strikes.

The latest figures from the disease watchdog, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), show that in the week to October 10, GPs saw an increase in patients with respiratory complaints. There is no evidence of flu yet but the common cold is being detected.


Immunity debt

There are fears that winter viruses – separate to Covid-19 – have the potential to spread like wildfire in the coming months.

This is because of what is being described as “immunity debt”. Most of us would have expected to have been exposed to a cold virus in previous months but we have fewer of those defences this winter.

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Soldiering on

Pre-Covid-19 it was ingrained in us over the years to try to still turn up for work even if we were feeling under the weather. For those in insecure employment or the self-employed, taking time off still poses financial difficulties.

The instinct has also been to send a child to school who has mild cold symptoms.

But leaving home with possible Covid-19-like symptoms has been compared to drink driving in terms of social unacceptability. Never before has fighting a cold – which could potentially be Covid – taken on such loaded significance. 


Fully vaccinated

Fully vaccinated people with Covid-19 jabs have more protection from infection, but they can still get the Covid-19 virus and pass it on.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said if anyone has symptoms, including a high temperature, dry cough or flu symptoms, they should get a test and stay at home. He said: “Do not assume that because you are vaccinated you can’t get Covid-19.”


Runny nose

The HSE advice in relation to children is that if they have just a runny nose or sneezing, they can go to school. But if they are unwell or off form they should stay at home.

There has been a surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in young children in recent weeks. Several have had to be hospitalised. The three children’s hospitals in Dublin have been seeing winter levels of respiratory illness in children since September.

Parents should look out for symptoms of severe infection in at-risk children, including fever with a high temperature of 37.8C or above, a dry cough, difficulty feeding, and rapid or noisy breathing.


Telling the difference

Even if people stay home with cold symptoms, the reality is that not everyone will seek a Covid-19 test. So are there any tell-tale signs?

According to data from the Zoe symptom-tracking app, the main four symptoms for the Delta variant are headache, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. Not very helpful if you are trying to self-diagnose. One of these signals it could be Covid-19 is rapid loss of taste or smell. This tends to happen early on. Another sign might be a “strange sore throat that moves around”.

The HSE lists fever, including having chills, a dry cough or fatigue as possible symptoms of Covid-19. Less common symptoms are loss or change to smell and taste, a runny or blocked nose or red eyes. If unsure ring your GP for advice. The mantra has to be, ‘if in doubt, get a test’.

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