As pollen counts skyrocket and COVID ticks back up, telling the difference between allergies and something more serious can be a real challenge. Lots of symptoms overlap, including headache, cough, fatigue, runny nose, and sore throat. The biggest difference is that allergies don’t typically cause shortness of breath, fever, chills, body aches, or loss of taste and smell. Likewise, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes are more common with allergies than COVID. If you regularly get allergies at this time of year and allergy medication relieves your symptoms, it’s probably safe to assume it’s allergies as long as you have no new or different symptoms than usual. If you’re not sure if your symptoms are allergies or COVID, it’s better to err on the side of caution and stay home. This is a great case for at-home testing - two negative tests 24 hours apart are nearly as effective as a PCR test and can help you determine if your symptoms are allergies or something more.
Unfortunately, this latest uptick in case counts comes along with Easter, Ramadan, and Passover when families gathered together to celebrate. Generally, someone is infectious for 48 hours before their symptoms first start, so if you had close-contact with someone in the 2 days before their symptoms developed (or before they first tested positive, if they have no symptoms), then you should assume that you were exposed. If you’re fully vaccinated and boosted, you don’t need to quarantine per the latest CDC guidelines, but you should wear a mask for 10 days, and get tested 3-5 days after your exposure. You should also keep an eye out for symptoms - if any develop, you should assume it’s COVID, get tested, and stay home.
When COVID infects animal populations, like it has in mink, deer, and plenty of zoo animals, among others, it mutates in different ways within that population. While we’re seeing Delta, Omicron, XE, and other new variants mutate within our own population, entirely different variants are mutating within animal populations. There’s some serious concern that the virus might mutate very differently in animals, and then be passed back to humans. It may be more infectious, more severe, or different enough that immune responses and vaccines aren’t as effective against it. The real takeaway here is that in our highly connected world, we need to be prepared for the next surge or the next pandemic - whether it’s the same virus in a different form, or a totally new one.
While technically the answer is yes, many people with flu are quite sick for a number of days and should not return to work until they’re fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication. And most over the counter flu remedies (i.e. Theraflu) do contain fever-reducing medicines like Acetaminophen (A.K.A. Tylenol). So although there is no specific length of exclusion, generally someone who has tested positive for flu will be out for several days or even longer, similar to an absence from COVID.