Cold or COVID? Infectious disease experts say colds are coming back with a vengeance

Some people this summer are having to ask themselves if it's a cold or the coronavirus they're dealing with.

Getting the common cold in 2021 can be confusing.

"It's really hard to tell in most cases whether something is COVID or just a regular cold or just allergies," said Dr. Anne Liu, an infectious disease doctor with Stanford Health Care.

Several infectious disease doctors in the Bay Area we spoke with say this July, colds are coming back with a vengeance as people come together again.

"Lots of people have colds. It's very difficult to disentangle from COVID," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist with UCSF.

The doctors both say thankfully COVID tests are easily available, which is helpful because the delta variant is presenting with symptoms more like the common cold.

"We are living in a very confusing time, that we are basing decision on data from last year yet we also know that the variant and vaccinations are changing all of those calculations," said Dr. Liu.

So how can you decipher between a cold and COVID-19?

Generally speaking, Dr. Chin-Hong says colds are limited to the head, while the whole body reacts with COVID.

"Whole body reacting includes things like cough, shortness of breath, fevers. These are signs something beyond just a cold is happening," said Dr. Chin-Hong.

He also points out RSV, a respiratory virus mainly a problem for younger kids, is also circulating.

"I think a whole lot of people are going to get a whole lot of tests in the fall and winter. Just because it's going to be very difficult to disentangle symptoms by infection," said Dr. Chin-Hong.

Experts say adding to the confusion is that the virus that causes COVID is continuously evolving.

"Rather than wonder whether you have COVID, if you have symptoms, the easiest thing is just to go ahead and get tested and put that question to rest," said Dr. Liu.