• The coronavirus-flu “twindemic” threat is closing in fast, with health experts warning that a convergence of the two respiratory illness might be highly problematic.
  • Doctors can’t reliably tell the difference between the two illnesses because of their many overlapping symptoms.
  • Two symptoms can help you tell COVID-19 apart from the flu, but they might not be enough for a definitive diagnosis.

Health experts have been warning us about the dangers of a coronavirus-flu convergence during the cold seasons for months, saying that the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be under control before the flu starts infecting people in the fall and winter. Some refer to this convergence as the “twindemic,” a dual epidemic that can affect a community. Given that the novel coronavirus is the more infectious of the two, the worse the local COVID-19 epidemic is, the worse the twindemic might be. Hospitals might have a more challenging time dealing with the two types of patients, and there may be people who get both pathogens. The upcoming fall and winter seasons might show us what this dual infection can do to the body.

It’s not enough that the world will have to face two distinct viruses in the coming months. But both the coronavirus and flu share many symptoms, making it nearly impossible for doctors and patients to tell what the underlying problem is without testing. And patients will need to undergo both flu and COVID-19 tests, although dual-testing kits might be available soon. With that in mind, there are two symptoms you should pay attention to, as they might help you distinguish between the flu and COVID-19, and take appropriate measures faster, even before getting tested.

“We’re going to be totally confused,” University of Michigan School of Public Health epidemiologist Arnold Monto told The Washington Post about the upcoming twindemic.

Monto pointed out one distinctive COVID-19 sign that you can look for even before taking a proper PCR test. That’s the sudden loss of smell and taste, which has been increasingly observed in COVID-19 patients.

But not all those people who are infected with the novel virus will get the symptom. The Post notes that a recent study from Europe showed that 85% of 417 people with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 reported the symptoms.

The flu and common colds can also lead to a temporary loss of smell. But the coronavirus might lead to a more sudden and profound smell loss experience that affects even the ability to distinguish between sweet and bitter. Also, it can happen in COVID-19 without experiencing a stuffy nose.

University of East Anglia ENT expert Carl Philpott conducted a limited study, giving smell tests to 30 people matched for age and sex. A third of them had COVID-19, 10 had bad colds, and 10 served as control. The doctor said that people who might suspect they have COVID-19 they might screen themselves at home, sniffing products like coffee and oranges.

There’s another COVID-19 symptom that might tell you that it’s not the flu that’s giving you troubles — or not just the flu. That’s dyspnea, or difficulty breathing. The loss of smell and dyspnea are currently the two symptoms not shared with the flu, per the CDC. Half of the patients with severe cases of the illness might develop dyspnea about a week after the onset of symptoms, according to a paper. The symptom indicates a severe respiratory issue that might need supplemental oxygen therapy and even a ventilator.

Before it comes to that, you should check your breathing habits and look for an increased rate. Normal rates are between 12 and 16 per minute. You should consider getting a device called a pulse oximeter to have around the house, and you should start using one as soon as symptoms arrive pointing to a common cold, flu, or COVID-19. Once it starts detecting abnormal values, you should contact your doctor. Normal readings should be between 94 and 100, anything less than that, and you might experience the first signs of hypoxemia, as not enough oxygen travels through your arteries.

Typically, breathing issues will not come alone, and you should experience other symptoms common with the flu and coronavirus. The list can include fever and chills, coughing, body aches, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea.

However, not all COVID-19 patients develop the same symptoms. And there may be cases where people do not develop loss of smell and dyspnea. They could still be infected with the novel coronavirus, not an influenza strain.

As soon as any symptoms come in, you should put COVID-19 first and consider you might have it. That way, you can isolate yourself from other people and social distance when you have to get out. You’ll also have to wear a face mask at all times, even when at home, to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to other family members. Testing for the flu and COVID-19 should then be a priority, especially if symptoms worsen.