HAND-washing and face-mask wearing has never been more important as a number of viruses circulate.
Hundreds of thousands of people are coming down with symptoms every day, while many more have no symptoms but are contagious.
Colleagues, relatives and friends are commonly complaining of a runny nose, a cough that won’t go away or just feeling “under the weather”.
So when you come down with something, how should you react?
Regardless of your symptoms, it may be best to get a Covid test just to check.
If it is positive, there are strict self-isolation rules. But if it is negative, experts say if you are unwell, it’s best to stay away from people to prevent spreading bugs, anyway.
Even if you are adamant you have a cold, it could be Covid, and vice versa.
We get it – it’s becoming hard to keep up with advice and when to take your runny nose seriously.
Here, we give an idea of what to expect with each virus at the moment – from the latest super Covid strain Omicron to the classic common cold.
Most people are familiar with the flu and what it feels like. It’s similar to the coronavirus, although the two are caused by different bugs.
People sick with the flu do not have loss of smell or taste as much as those with Covid, data suggest.
The World Health Organization says that seasonal flu is characterised by a sudden onset of fever (high temperature), cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severely feeling unwell, a sore throat and a runny nose.
Dr Conall Watson, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said now is the time to get your flu jab, if you haven’t already.
He explained: "Temperatures are dropping, and winter is approaching. Flu typically increases at this time of the year, so if you are eligible for an NHS flu vaccine and haven’t had it yet, please book as soon as you can.”
“Worst cold ever”
The so-called “worst cold ever” appeared to begin spreading at the end of summer.
Experts said an immunity debt, owing to months in lockdown, meant common colds felt particularly bad.
The NHS lists says a common cold can cause:
- A blocked or runny nose
- A sore throat
- Muscle aches
- A raised temperature
- Pressure in your ears and face
- Loss of taste and smell
The difference between a cold and the flu is that a cold does not typically cause such a sudden spike in temperature.
There may be more blockage in the sinuses and a feeling of stuffiness, as opposed to flu which is more like a total body fatigue.
When it comes to Covid, it’s best to get a test, Prof Tim Spector, an epidemioloigst at King’s College London says.
Data show that around one in four people who think their symptoms are a cold in fact have Covid.
Covid symptoms vary greatly between people.
The NHS says that in order to get a free PCR test, you need a persistent new cough, high temperature and loss of taste and/ or smell.
This does not mean Covid is limited to these three symptoms – it’s just the criteria that health chiefs have decided to use to make testing as specific to the coronavirus as possible.
Other public health bodies included many more symptoms from the offset.
The World Health Organization says the most common symptoms are a fever, cough, tiredness and loss of taste or smell.
Less common signs are a sore throat, headache, aches and pains, diarrhoea, a rash on skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes and red or irritated eyes.
Around two-thirds of people who catch Covid show symptoms.
But this may be changing because, as vaccines are doled out by the millions, people suffer a more mild disease.
That’s according to the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, which has been tracking the outbreak for over a year.
Positive patients that use the app most commonly have a headache and runny nose, reported by 73 per cent.
It's followed by a sneezing (60 per cent), a sore throat (49 per cent) and persistent cough (49 per cent).
These symptoms were likely to occur alongside others. Having a headache alone, for example, does not necessarily mean you have Covid.
The Office for National Statistics, another nationwide Covid tracking study, also say that “the most commonly reported symptoms continue to be cough, fatigue and headache”.
The Delta variant is the most prevalent in the UK currently, making up around 60 per cent of infections.
As it grew in case numbers, evidence showed that its symptoms may be different to the original version of the virus, from Wuhan.
Coughing and loss of the sense of taste and smell aren’t as common with Delta, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).
Changes in symptoms come down to evolution.
Meanwhile, a sub-variant of Delta that makes up around 15 per cent of cases in the UK is less likely to show symptoms at all, according to research from Imperial College London
AY.4.2 was shown to cause illness in 66.7 per cent of people infected compared to 76.4 per cent in those with Delta.
The doctor who first sounded the alarm about the Omicron variant has claimed that it causes different symptoms.
It was for this reason that she initially pushed for testing, wondering why young men that came to the clinic did not have the classic signs of Covid.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of the South African Medical Association, suggests the main symptoms of Omicron are fatigue, body aches and headache.
Dr Coetzee, who is also on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, told Reuters that unlike Delta, so far patients have not reported loss of smell or taste.
She said all the patients she had seen herself so far had mild illness.
This could be for a number of reasons, including the fact patients were younger or that at least half had been vaccinated.
Ultimately, there is a lot scientists do not know about the Omicron variant, which was only detected on November 23.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said it will be at least another three weeks before more information is gained.
During this time, the NHS is ramping up booster shots, giving them to anyone who had their second vaccine dose three months ago.
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