Ask a Pediatrician: How Can I Tell if My Child Has the Flu or COVID-19?

You ask, we answer. In each edition of “Ask a Pediatrician,” Connecticut Children’s pediatric experts respond to a question from our community.

With flu season here, growing talk of a “twindemic,” and the coronavirus pandemic still at large, Connecticut Children’s infectious disease pediatrician John R. Schreiber, MD, MPH, fields an important question.

How can I tell if my child’s symptoms are from the flu or COVID-19?

Dr. Schreiber: You’ll need a doctor’s help – and in many cases, a test – to know for sure.

Why? Influenza is a different respiratory virus from COVID-19, but it can look very similar. Both flu and COVID-19 can cause severe symptoms, mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all.

For both flu and COVID-19, kids might have any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Unfortunately, there are no tell-tale signs for the flu versus COVID-19.

COVID-19 may cause a change or loss of taste or smell, which is uncommon in regular flu. Shortness of breath is more common with COVID-19 than with flu, and a runny nose is more common with flu than COVID-19 – but either is possible with both illnesses.

Bottom line? If you think your child might be sick, keep them home and call their primary care pediatrician.

Your child’s pediatrician will help you decide what to do next, and may recommend a COVID-19 test.

You can also call Connecticut Children’s 24-hour Pediatric COVID-19 Hotline at 833.226.2362 to speak to one of our clinicians.

> Schedule a Video Visit with Connecticut Children’s pediatric experts

If your child still needs their flu shot, call your child’s pediatrician right now to schedule.

This flu season will likely last through April – and if it’s severe, we could experience a flu pandemic at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic.

We all need to take steps to prevent this possibility of a twin pandemic, or “twindemic”: by getting flu shots, wearing masks, social distancing, and quarantining at home if we might be sick.

Stay safe and healthy.

What other topics would you like us to address in our “Ask a Pediatrician” series? Let us know at askapediatrician@connecticutchildrens.org.

 

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