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Nottingham Post
Nottingham Post
Ellie Kemp & Tom Vigar

The key symptoms that tell you if you have Covid, Strep A, a cold or the flu

Millions of Brits have been feeling unwell in the week leading up to Christmas, with Covid, Strep A, colds and flu all spreading. Some people have been complaining of a particularly intense illness that isn't Covid - with some dubbing it the '2022 lurgy'.

But with various different illness around, it can be difficult to identify what it actually is that's making you feel unwell. There are a lot of symptoms that overlap so its easy to mistake one infection for another.

However, there are some key differences between Covid, Strep A and the flu, outlined further on in this article. Most cases of all three illnesses are mild but it is still good to know what you have so you are aware of what to look out for.

READ MORE: Interactive Strep A map shows all suspected cases in Nottinghamshire

The NHS is currently seeing a big rise in the number of people needing treatment for respiratory illnesses, the Manchester Evening News reports. The number of patients in hospital in England with flu has "skyrocketed" recently, while strep A is driving "near record" demand for NHS 111 services, new data suggest.

It has prompted health experts at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to urge anyone feeling unwell to avoid mixing with friends and family over Christmas. People are also encouraged to wear facemasks and wash their hands regularly, to avoid illnesses spreading.

An average of 1,939 people were in hospital with flue each day last week, representing a 67% increase from the week before, according to NHS England. And separate data shows that NHS 111 received 721,301 calls last week, up from 706,129 the week before.

This was "near-record" demand and "significantly" more than usual for this time of year, NHS England said. It is nearly 60% more than the 452,644 calls received in the equivalent week last year, with the rise believed to be partly due to parents being concerned about Strep A.

If you or your child is feeling unwell, here are some of the key symptoms to look out for with Covid, Strep A and flu.


The most common Covid symptoms have been changing throughout the pandemic, due to vaccines changing how the virus affects people, and the emergence of new variants. But according to the ZOE Health Study, a sore throat is currently the most reported symptom.

It is the world's largest ongoing study into Coronavirus, giving scientific insight into symptoms, vaccines, immunity and new variants. It lists the top symptoms of the virus as:

  • a sore throat
  • a runny nose
  • a blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • a cough without phlegm
  • a headache
  • a cough with phlegm
  • a hoarse voice
  • muscle aches and pains
  • an altered sense of smell

Strep A

According to the NHS, Strep A has flu like symptoms. But the bacteria can lead to various different infections, some of which have specific sings. For instance, if Strep A leads to scarlet fever, a rough rash will appear that feels like sandpaper. Scabs and sores will develop if Strep A has caused impetigo. Some of the key symptoms are as follows:

  • flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, swollen glands or an aching body
  • sore throat (strep throat or tonsillitis)
  • a rash that feels rough, like sandpaper (scarlet fever)
  • scabs and sores (impetigo)
  • pain and swelling (cellulitis)
  • severe muscle aches
  • nausea and vomiting

The NHS website says: " Most Strep A infections are not serious and can be treated with antibiotics, but in rare cases they can cause serious problems. This is called invasive group A strep (iGAS)".

You should book a GP appointment or contact NHS111 if:

  • your child is unwell and is getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has fewer wet nappies than usual or is peeing less than usual, or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is 3 to 6 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher
  • your child is very tired or irritable

Flu (influenza)

The key symptoms of flu, according to the NHS, are:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

Flu symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.


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