Covid-19 or flu? UAE doctor says patients should be tested for both

Doctors report sharp decrease in influenza cases because of precautions adopted to prevent spread of Covid-19

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

As the influenza season approaches, a doctor at a leading hospital in Abu Dhabi has said that patients should be tested for both flu and Covid-19 to establish what the illness is and confirm a diagnosis.

Dr Fernanda Bonilla, an infectious disease consultant at Cleveland Clinic, said both diseases have varying signs and symptoms but PCR tests can give instant results.

“Unfortunately, the similarities are more than the differences so it is very difficult to differentiate based only on the symptoms,” Dr Bonilla said.

“Depending on the medical evaluation by your doctor, they may decide to test you for both at the same time so you would get the answer right away.

“The best way to differentiate is to get tested and to be seen by your doctor so in case you are diagnosed with one, the treatment can be started immediately and it is different for both of them."

In certain cases, more than one PCR test may be needed to rule out Covid-19 as it can take days for a blood antibody test to turn positive.

PCRs are widely regarded as the gold standard for detecting Sars-CoV-2 but studies show the results can be inaccurate if the test is done within three days of exposure.

It is more likely to confirm infection in someone who has recently developed symptoms than a patient who was infected the day before.

Flu or Covid

Dr Bonilla said specialised diagnostic tests must be done but equally important is a doctor’s evaluation.

She said if people feel sick they should go to a hospital instead of merely taking a PCR test and assuming they are down with flu if the first test is negative.

She reminded the public about the differences and similarities between influenza and Covid-19.

A patient could be completely asymptomatic or suffer from severe illness.

“Both are respiratory illnesses with symptoms such as a fever and body pain.

"I would say that the lack of taste and smell is more typical to Covid-19 than influenza but other than that all symptoms are very similar.”

Dr Fernanda Bonilla says if people feel sick they should go to a hospital instead of merely taking a PCR test and assuming they are down with flu if the first test is negative. Photo: Cleveland Hospital

Dr Bonilla said the number of people suffering from influenza has gone down considerably because of the precautions adopted to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

"Currently, we don’t have much influenza going around and we didn’t have many cases last year,” she said.

“But that doesn’t mean there are no cases, it’s still there and your doctor may get you tested for both flu and Covid-19 depending on your exposure, medical problems and risk factors.

“Both are transmitted in the same way – aerosolised droplets from coughing, sneezing and talking but the use of masks and quarantine rules have reduced the transmission of both.

“In the US, they usually have 20 to 40 million Americans with influenza each year but this year the number is in thousands. Here, we don’t have the numbers but for sure it is less than what we see every year.”

Dr Bonilla said people were being cautious and there had been an increase in the number of "false alarms" at the hospital.

A new PCR test to identify the delta variant - in pictures

Updated: October 17, 2021, 12:29 PM