The coronavirus outbreak has made many Australians unsure how to deal with a sniffle or cough they would usually ignore — and perhaps with good reason.
For some patients, without specific testing for COVID-19 it can be difficult to know whether mild signs of illness indicate more than a common cold virus.
For others with coronavirus, the disease’s impact will be much more severe, and sometimes deadly.
The chart below shows the symptoms experienced by more than 55,000 patients in China who tested positive for coronavirus.
Signs of coronavirus disease (China)
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Very few had non-cold-like symptoms, such as aches, vomiting or diarrhoea. The vast majority showed signs that can also be seen in people with a cold.
So while that sniffle is probably just the usual upper respiratory tract infection, you can’t be sure.
The main difference is the likelihood of fever: most people with COVID-19 develop a high temperature.
In contrast, while people with a cold can develop a fever, it happens only rarely, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
Coronavirus symptoms have even more in common with influenza — that other, sometimes deadly virus often confused with the common cold.
Most people with either COVID-19 or the flu tend to develop a high temperature and many develop muscular aches. And almost all have cold-like symptoms, too.
The limited amount of published Australian COVID-19 data (based on just over 900 cases) shows a similar pattern to what doctors saw in China, though fewer Australian patients report fever and more say they have muscular pain.
Signs of coronavirus disease (Australia)
However, health authorities say this may change when more patient data is analysed.
These barely perceptible differences between COVID-19 and common cold viruses are why Australian doctors now see fewer of these patients in person, and advise them over the phone instead.
Respiratory infections are usually the third most common reason people visit a GP.
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Where can I get help?
- If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should seek medical advice.
- If you want to speak to someone about your symptoms first, call the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline at any time on 1800 020 080.
- You can also use the COVID-19 symptom checker on the Government’s official Health Direct site.
- Before visiting your local GP or hospital, you need to call ahead and tell them about your symptoms.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Video: The Virus: Jeremy Fernandez updates you on the latest developments on COVID-19 as of April 3