November 3, 2021

COVID testing recommended for flu-like symptoms

Vanderbilt physicians recommend COVID testing for people who think they may have the flu because the symptoms for both infections overlap.

(photo by Donn Jones)

by Paul Govern

Flu season is about to begin in Tennessee. Let’s say you’ve come down with a respiratory illness, the full monty — you’re feverish, you’ve got a cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, body aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, and a change in (or loss of) taste or smell.

Is it COVID or is it flu?

“It could be either,” said infectious diseases specialist Tom Talbot, MD, professor of Medicine and chief hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Symptoms of these two viral infections overlap to the point that testing is generally required to tell them apart. Before the pandemic, we didn’t have to test everyone with a flu-like illness for influenza if that virus was widely spreading in the community, but because we have to manage COVID-19 infection differently from influenza, we need to test people with these symptoms to give them the best care possible for their specific infection. People with flu-like symptoms should contact their health care provider about COVID testing and, as we move into flu season, possibly flu testing.”

A combined rapid PCR test for COVID-19 and flu is available from Vanderbilt Health Walk-In Clinics and Vanderbilt Health Clinic at Walgreens locations.

VUMC employees can find information about vaccination against influenza and COVID-19 on the VUMC Occupational Health website.

For more information on similarities between flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.