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How to tell the difference between omicron variant, common cold and the flu

A doctor reveals the newest way to tell the difference between COVID-19, the flu and the common cold

People in line at a COVID-19 test site in Utah.
Anthony Torres walks to people in line at a COVID-19 test site at the Cannon Health Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Some health officials say it is easy to tell the difference between the omicron variant, the common cold and the flu.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

The omicron variant of the coronavirus is surging through the United States. It comes at a time when the flu and the common cold are also common throughout the country, raising questions about how to distinguish between each of the sicknesses.

  • Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former Detroit health director, recently told CNN that there is an easy way to determine the difference.

He said to think about your exposure risk — if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, your symptoms could be COVID-19.

  • Loss of smell and loss of taste are COVID-19-specific symptoms that often mean you’re infected with the coronavirus.
  • The omicron variant often leads to a headache.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease specialist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, told Yahoo! News that a COVID-19 test can help you determine the difference between the common cold and COVID-19. That fits with what El-Sayed said.

  • “Once you start feeling those symptoms ... it’s worth isolating yourself and getting a couple of tests,” he said.
  • But, he said, don’t test immediately. Once you get symptoms, test one day and then test another day.

It’s not surprising some are confusing COVID-19 and the common cold right now because the omicron variant has symptoms just like the common cold. Why? Researchers published a study in early December in OSF Preprints that found the omicron variant has some genetic makeup similar to the common cold.