Dr. Coker Ayodele Olurotimi.
The rainy season will soon be with us in Nigeria and the rates of common cold, the flu and allergies will also be on the increase. It is therefore better for us to recognise the signs and symptoms of these three conditions because they are also quite similar to that of the Covid-19. The general signs and symptoms of the four conditions are – dry and unproductive cough, sneezing, fever,chest pain, fatigue and headache. In the light of this, when some people get infected with the common cold or flu or suddenly developed allergy to some foodstuff or other substances and start to manifest with signs and symptoms that are similar those of the coronavirus, they are likely to develop sudden fear, anxiety, panic, symptoms of depression such as low moods, sleep disturbances including fear of dying.
Due to the expected increase in panic situations, fear of dying and other mental health issues, there will be an increased number of those that might want to be tested for the coronavirus.The local, state and the federal government should be ready to increase the testing during the rainy season which is just around the corner. Nonetheless, I will try and compare the signs and symptoms of these three conditions with the Covid-19 illness and how to differentiate these three conditions from the Covid-19 illness.
What is the common cold?
The common cold is caused by the rhinoviruses, some viral infections that we catch during the rainy season that affects our upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, and chest). The signs and symptoms are headaches, fever, running nose, coughing, weakness of the body, sore throat, and sneezing; but these signs and symptoms are relatively mild compared to the flu or the coronavirus infections. This type of viral infection is harmless and seemingly healthy Nigerian adults are expected to experience about three common colds in one year. Nonetheless, infected people who experience common cold are expected to recover within five to ten days. The main signs and symptoms of the common cold includemild cough, running or stuffy nose, body weakness, sore throat, sneezing, mild headaches, watery eyes, and mild fever.
The common cold virus, just like the coronavirus enters the body through the mouth, eyes, or nose. The common cold spreads by hand to hand contact with an infected person, through sharing of telephones, towels, and cooking utensils. Again, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus can spread through droplets in the air.
The common cold can be prevented by taking precautionary measures such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water, and also by using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.One should cough and sneeze into one’s elbows or paper tissues. The paper tissue should be discardedimmediately into the dustbin. Physical and social distancing is also necessary to avoid close contact with those suffering from the common cold.There is no vaccine for the common cold.Albeit, to also prevent the common cold, we need to eat a good balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, take care of our physical health through regular physical exercises, learn to manage our stress levels, and get good quality sleep for at least 8 hours.
What is the Flu?
Influenza is also called the flu. Just like the common cold, it is also caused by a virus known as the influenza virus. The virus causes infection of the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs just like the common cold. However, the signs and symptoms of flu are slightly more severe than the common cold because if not treated, it can lead to death. When infected, the flu lasts for five to seven days. The signs and symptoms of the flu include: high fever (above 38 degrees) that brings about chills and feverish feelings, higher than that of the common cold, dry unproductive cough, fatigue (tiredness), general body aches and pains, running or stuffy nose, sneezing (not severe like the common cold), sore throat,mild headaches and, shortness of breath; children may experience vomiting and diarrhoea.
The flu, unlike the common cold, starts suddenly with high fever, stuffy nose, dry cough, headache, body pains in the head, lower back and legs, loss of appetite, and tiredness during the first three days. By the fourth and fifth days, the fever and body pains will subside. All the symptoms will eventually subside by the eighth to the tenth day.
The flu has a vaccine and one can be vaccinated against the flu. However, most infected people with the flu get well after using pain killer medications. Nonetheless, people suffering from the flu are advised to stay at home and get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. The flu can be diagnosed through a rapid influenza test that can give results in fifteen minutes. The influenza test involves a nasal or throat culture to determine the presence of the influenza virus. You do not need to see your doctor when you catch the flu virus. Most healthy people have immunity that will assist them to fight the infection. Again, those experiencing the signs and symptoms of the influenza virus, need to eat a good diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and rest a lot to recover from the infection.
What is Coronavirus (Covid-19)?
The illness from Coronavirus is called the Covid-19 illness. This form of viral infection is a new strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans and has been found in every country of the world. The Covid-19 causes severe illness in vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly and those with severe underlying chronic health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. There is no vaccine yet for the treatment and management of the Covid-19. The signs and symptoms of Covid-19 arefever, dry and unproductive cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness), generalised aches and pains of the body, headaches, sore throat, and sometimes diarrhoea and vomiting.
Infection from the coronavirus occurs if there is a recent close contact with a Covid-19 patient or someone that came from high-risk countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America, China, Iran, Italy, and Spain where the Covid-19 is still ubiquitous and virulent. The illness spreads fromperson to person, through respiratory droplets when the infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes, which can also contaminate various surfaces. One can, therefore, be infected when one touches his face, mouth, nose, or eyes.
Some infected people, however, may not show any signs or symptoms of the illness. Bur on the average, it takes five to six days when someone becomes infected for the signs and symptoms to show; it can also last as long as 14 days. Although most people will recover quickly from the Covid-19 illness, it can also cause severe and fatal medical complications that can also lead to death especially in the vulnerable groups by causing severe pneumonia in both lungs and several organ failures.
For those that think that they have been exposed to people with the Covid-19 illness, and have started manifesting with the above signs and symptoms, one has to quickly call the NCDC given numbers to get tested for the illness, and if found to be positive, one has to be isolated in some specific isolation centres.
Nonetheless, to prevent oneself from contracting the Covid-19 illness, one needs to wash one’s hands with water and soap frequently, use alcohol-based hand sanitisers, avoid large-event gatherings, use the face mask when going out of your house, and finally stay home and stay safe.
What are Allergies?
Closely-related to the viral infections that affect the mouth, nose, and throat, is allergies. Allergies occur when your body’s immune system reacts to seemingly harmless foreign substances such as food that does not cause dangerous reactions in other people, medications, and dust. The signs and symptoms of allergies include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, watery, red and itchy eyes, itchy throat, rash, mild headache, chest pain, dry and unproductive cough, and shortness of breathwhich is not as severe as the Covid-19 infection. The allergic reaction could be sudden, immediately after coming in contact with an item or ingesting a portion of food or medication.
Nevertheless, allergies can be treated with medications such as antihistamines; decongestants, steroids, and nasal sprays.
Dr. Coker Ayodele Olurotimi is a Lagos-based Behavioural Medicine expert. Cokerrotimi@gmail.com