MEMPHIS, Tenn.– Any sign of a symptom such as a sniffle or cough could have you worried you’ve contracted the virus, but COVID-19, the common cold, seasonal allergies, and the flu can cause many similar symptoms. So, how can you tell what you have?

Infectious disease specialists like Dr. Steve Threlkeld with Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis say it’s important to understand the differences in symptoms such as how the illnesses can spread, how they’re treated and prevented and when to get tested.

“It’s much more important to go get tested and be careful who you are around if you’re having respiratory symptoms right now. If you have alterations of taste and smell you almost certainly have COVID. That’s not common except for the nasal stuffiness itself for the common cold or flu,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “Let’s protect the people around us who are still going to get sick. It may not be you; it may be your loved one or person you care about it in some way.”

As the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the Mid-South and the rest of the country, the demand at testing sites and for ‘at home’ testing is on the rise.

But one place you shouldn’t go get tested is hospital emergency rooms. Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Michelle Taylor says ERs are already stretched thin with COVID patients.

“Do not go to the ER to get tested if you’re having mild symptoms. Make sure you go to one of our (Shelby County Health Department) community testing sites or call your provider to see if they’re doing testing,” she said.

Dr. Nick Hysmith, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, also says the best advice if you do have any symptoms is to stay home.

“We know the testing across the country is so hard to come by at this point and you’ll stand in line or wait in line for hours to get your test,” he said. “You should probably just stay in, quarantine and then if convenient testing is available then you should go do that and take advantage of that.”

The CDC encourages people who have come into close contact with someone with covid to get tested at least five days after the contact was made.