'Worst lurgy ever' sweeps UK as key differences between bug and Covid explained

By Claire Gilbody-Dickerson

Many Brits have been struck down by what has been branded as "the worst cold ever" - but what are the symptoms and how do you know it's not Covid?

There isn't exact data on the number of people who have caught the devastating bug in the past few weeks, as most people don't report to their GP with a cold.

But there is sufficient anecdotal evidence proving the lurgy has spread widely up and down the country.

Rather than the usual runny nose and cough, the disease appears to be laying people out.

Some people told the Mirror how the cold had been more debilitating than Covid, while others reported having to call sick for weeks because of it.

One reported being so badly hit by the bug they had to call sick on the first day of their new job.

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One person reported having to take whole weeks off from work to recover from the cold (Getty Images/Image Source)

The spread of what's been branded the UK's "worst lurgy" has been attributed to a dip in immunity after a year and a half of social distancing and wearing face masks.

Symptoms are very similar to the signs of Covid in a person who has been double-jabbed, raising fears the virus could be dismissed as a cold.

So where does this super cold come from and how can you tell it's not Covid?

Key differences between cold and Covid symptoms


According to Professor Azeem Majeed, we are seeing an increase in colds and other respiratory infections across the UK compared to the previous winter, when rates were "very low" because of social distancing and other infection control measures to tackle Covid.

He said the symptoms of a cold typically include a blocked or runny nose, sore throat, headache, cough and sneezing, many of which can also occur in people with Covid-19.

"Now that most adults in the UK have been fully vaccinated, when people do contract Covid-19, it is often with milder symptoms that can overlap those from a cold," he told the Mirror.

The NHS advises people to rest and drink plenty of water to treat the cold (Getty Images/Westend61)
The lurge has been branded 'the UK's worst cold' (Getty Images)

"This means that for many people with these kinds of symptoms, a Covid-19 test will be needed to separate the two conditions.

"There will be a lot of scope for the public to confuse the symptoms of colds and Covid-19 during the winter.

"The message for the public should be to always be cautious if they have symptoms of a cold, get a test when appropriate, and limit interactions with people outside your household until you are better."

NHS guidance says you should treat a cold with:

  • rest and sleep
  • keep warm
  • drink plenty of water (fruit juice or squash mixed with water is okay) to avoid dehydration
  • gargle salt water to soothe a sore throat (not suitable for children)

You should see a GP if:

  • your symptoms do not improve after 3 weeks
  • your symptoms get suddenly worse
  • your temperature is very high or you feel hot and shivery
  • you're concerned about your child's symptoms
  • you're feeling short of breath or develop chest pain
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes, or a heart, lung or kidney condition
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because you're having chemotherapy
According to the NHS, the three big three symptoms for Covid are high temperature, a cough and loss of taste or smell (Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF)

You can avoid catching a cold by washing your hands regularly with warm water and soap, not sharing towels or other household items with someone who has a cold, staying fit and healthy, and avoiding touching your face.

The NHS lists the following symptoms as the three big signs of Covid - a high temperature which leaves your back or chest "feeling hot", a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

But according to Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE Covid study app, the guidance is not up-to-date.

Experts have cautioned people to make sure they don't mistake Covid for the bug (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

"The UK still has more cases than most of Europe and I believe this is for two main reasons; the first is a lack of masks and social distancing and the second is because we’re ignorant of the symptoms," he told The Mirror.

"We should be looking out for things like sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. The classic three - cough, fever and anosmia are rarer these days, yet the government has done nothing.

"By not updating advice, we’re letting people into care homes, schools, workplaces and large gatherings displaying known signs of Covid.

"Roughly, 1 in 80 people in the UK have Covid. If we don’t wake up to the fact these cold-like symptoms could be Covid, we will continue to keep numbers high, putting unnecessary strain on an exhausted NHS."

Where does the UK's "worst cold" come from?

The spike in viral infections come as the public returns to normality -with less stress now on mask wearing and social distancing as Brits head back to work or school.

New arrivals at universities also face a spike in "Fresher's Flu" - an increase in viral symptoms as students bring viruses from their own towns to their lecture halls, Wales Online reports.

Rebecca London, 24, from Bournemouth told the BBC she caught a cold at a festival and it was 'the worst ever'.

She said: "I barely slept, I'd wake up in the night just coughing, a constantly runny nose and feeling so tired."

The cold lasted more than a week, she said.

Noor Hashmi, 18, another student, told the BBC: "Normally I'm still able to go about my day, but this one left me with muscle fatigue, a lost voice and headache that meant I've just stayed indoors."

Dr Philippa advises people experiencing symptoms of Covid - like a new cough, fever, loss of sense of taste or smell - to take a PCR test.

Cold symptoms can be treated with rest, fluids and over-the-counter painkillers, she adds.

Following Covid prevention measures - like wearing masks and social distancing - means we've missed the chance to develop immunity to coughs, cold and flu viruses for two years.

As your body has not had the opportunity to fight the illnesses, when they reach you the symptoms can be worse.

Should you get a PCR test?

The NHS advises people to test if they have any of the Covid symptoms it lists.

Experts from Zoe Covid App recommend getting a Covid test if you have common symptoms of Covid, with this being particularly important if you experience a loss of smell or taste.

This is echoed by Cardiff University's Professor Ron Eccles, who told the Mirror you cannot separate colds from Covid in jabbed people.

"So if you have a cold and are worried about spreading COVID to vulnerable members of your family or those at work then you should get a COVID test," he said


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