Ordinary colds and flu aren’t the reason for rising Covid-19 cases

2 October 2020
What was claimed

Normal seasonal colds and flu infections are being mistaken for a Covid-19 “second wave”.

Our verdict

The symptoms are similar in some cases, but Covid-19 can be clearly identified with a positive test. Recent monitoring also shows low levels of influenza-like illnesses in the UK at the moment.

“It's NOT a SECOND WAVE of C19 coming soon. It's the NORMAL COLD / FLU SEASON. Same as last year.”

Facebook post, 1 September 2020

A post on Facebook says that there is not an approaching “second wave” of Covid-19 infections. The author of the post appears to be based in Florida, but the post is also being shared in the UK.

We cannot fact check a prediction, because the future is unknown. This post might also be interpreted differently in Florida, the US and the UK, where the epidemic has risen and fallen at different times. (In Florida, cases have generally been declining since a peak in July, while in the US as a whole, cases have been rising again in recent weeks.)

However, we can say that there has been a rise in the number of Covid-19 infections in the UK since 1 September. 

We know this because we’ve seen more positive tests per day, both among people who came forward to be tested and people tested at random. We can also see that the number of hospital admissions after a positive test rose in September  too. 

It’s hard to say whether this amounts to a “second wave”, because this phrase is not clearly defined. It is also possible that the number of daily infections may now rise more slowly, or start to fall, either because there’s been a change in people’s behaviour (by law or by choice) or for some other reason. But the number of daily infections did rise substantially in September.

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Is this just a normal cold and flu season?

Some people infected with Covid-19 experience a cough or a high temperature, which are similar to some cold or flu symptoms. There may also be a rise in the number of colds and flu infections, which is common in the colder part of the year. This means that if you were just looking at symptoms, it could be harder to tell whether more people were getting Covid-19 or other respiratory diseases. 

But the rise in recent cases is based on positive tests, not just symptoms, and if someone tests positive for Covid-19 then they are very likely to have the disease itself. 

We’ve previously fact checked a false claim that tests for Covid-19 can’t tell the difference between SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) and some other common types of coronavirus that cause the common cold. This is not true of the PCR tests that are used for most testing in the UK. They are specific to SARS-CoV-2 and will not return many false positives. 

In addition, the most recently recorded level of influenza-like illnesses in the UK is relatively low. 

Altogether there is very strong evidence that the current rise in Covid-19 cases is real, rather than simply reflecting the normal cold and flu season.

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