COVID-19 or a cold? Experts weigh in as they see more COVID-19 breakthrough infections in vaccinated people

cold flu sick generic canva.png
Posted at 6:06 AM, Jun 22, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. — Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have now made their way to the U.S., making up almost 35% of new COVID-19 infections last week, according to the most recent datafrom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The virus keeps coming back at us with new mutations because there’s so much of it circulating worldwide,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished USF Health Professor.

Researchers believe those subvariants will likely become the dominant strains soon.

“They’ve really gotten very good at evading the antibody response that we’re getting,” said Unnasch.

This means these subvariants are efficiently able to infect people who have been vaccinated.

“Everybody is basically susceptible to getting infection now,” said Unnasch.

The good news is that vaccines are still protecting people from severe illness.

“People aren’t getting really super sick when they’re getting infected,” said Unnasch.

While that’s great, experts said it’s making it even harder to discern whether you have COVID-19, a common cold, or seasonal allergies.

“If you take an antihistamine or a decongestant with an allergy it’s going to clear everything up and you’re going to feel better,” said Unnasch.

That won’t really happen if you have a cold or COVID-19. They both can give you symptoms like sneezing and a runny nose, but with COVID-19 you’ll likely have other signs including fatigue, muscle aches, and a low-grade fever.

“What we’re seeing quite frequently are GI problems with COVID infections, diarrhea primarily. Which you won’t see with a common cold,” said Unnasch.

Doctors said with the omicron subvariants they’re seeing many more upper respiratory infections too, like sore throats, sneezing, congestion, and headaches.

“If you have symptoms I would test yourself right away,” said Unnasch.

If your test comes back positive, experts said you should request Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, from your doctor right away. Take it within five days of your symptoms starting.

“The quicker you know, the quicker you can get your Paxlovid. The quicker you get the Paxlovid, the better off you’re going to be,” said Unnasch.

If you do test positive, doctors said it’s important to follow CDC guidelines and quarantine.

“Usually 90% of the people are not infectious after five days,” said Unnasch.

Experts said after 10 days almost no one is still infectious, even though many people will still test positive.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who test positive even after that point and the reason for that is they’re not producing active virus anymore. The virus has been blown to pieces but there’s still…ruble roaming in the body that will give you a false positive test so to speak. Which tells you there’s still pieces of the virus floating around on the surface of the ocean for example but the ship has sunk. It’s been torpedoed but there’s no ship there anymore,” said Unnasch.