The Difference Between Upper Respiratory Tract Infection and COVID-19
As Hong Kong enters winter and the flu season, we should be aware of the difference between the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu. Although both affect the upper respiratory tract, the flu leaves no sequela, while COVID-19 can leave the patient with permanent sequela, such as pulmonary fibrosis.
25 November 2020

What is the difference between Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) and COVID-19?

The threat of COVID-19 lurks in the background as Hong Kong enters winter and the flu season. A simultaneous attack of both COVID-19 and influenza on a patient can create complications, and treatment will be difficult. It is expected that this will rapidly increase the rate of transmission, and prevention through personal and environmental hygiene is essential.

We share with you the difference between the Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) and COVID-19.


What is URTI?

We call it the "flu,” which broadly means that the nasal cavity, sinuses, pharynx, throat, and vocal cords get infected by viruses and sometimes bacteria. Common examples of flu are colds and influenza. What are the symptoms of URTI? The common symptoms are cough, sore throat, runny nose, fever, headache, and muscle pain.

How to identify if you have a fever We can measure the body’s temperature with the "Range for Fever Temperature" from the Department of Health. You have a fever according to temperatures taken from Tympanic: higher than 38.0℃ / higher than 100.4℉ Oral: higher than 37.5℃ / higher than 99.5℉ Armpit: higher than 37.3℃ / higher than 99.1℉ Rectal: higher than 38.0℃ / higher than 100.4℉


URTI can spread through:

  • Droplet transmission when you inhale droplets of such patients who cough, sneeze or speak.
  • Indirect contact transmission when you touch surfaces (such as door handles and handrails) contaminated by the patients’ secretions with your hands, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes


What is the difference between URTI and COVID-19?

URTI symptoms are similar to COVID-19, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle pain, and headache.

However, COVID-19 might show lower respiratory tract symptoms such as chest tightness, pain behind the breastbone when coughing, wheezing when walking and talking, the body temperature rises, and the body feels cold. Some patients may lose their sense of taste and smell, while others may have rashes. The survey conducted by King’s College London in the UK found that 17% of confirmed patients had rashes as the first sign of COVID-19, and 21% said that inflammation is their only symptom.

Are there any sequelae to URTI?

Influenza: less sequelae Cold: no sequelae COVID-19: permanent damage such as pulmonary fibrosis.

COVID-19 patients may have respiratory failure even after they have recovered because their lungs are damaged, or some may suffer permanent lung damage. Other patients may experience liver damage, some of whom may experience liver failure.

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