Colds, the Flu & Covid … When Should You Test?

Covid has radically changed the way we approach medical testing. Prior to 2020, it would have been practically unheard of to test asymptomatic people for an illness — other than preventative screening tests. Now, frequent, widespread testing is being touted as the way to end the pandemic. Should we listen and become testing junkies, obsessed with knowing if we are carrying a virus, whether or not we are suffering any ill effects?

The answer is both no, don’t make yourself crazy, and yes, if you have reason to test, do it. If you have symptoms of covid, which are essentially the same as symptoms of the common cold and the flu, right now, the responsible thing to do is to err on the side of caution and do a home test, or if your symptoms are severe, see your doctor. The fallout from a positive test for you and the people you have close contact with are annoying for sure, but remember the sacrifice is for the greater good. We need to get our lives and the lives of our children back to some semblance of normal, and limiting the spread is the way to do it.

Experts are predicting a bad flu season. They aren’t really going out on a limb here, as anyone in healthcare could’ve seen this coming. During quarantine and mask wearing, we weren’t exposed to many germs. This was good and bad. Good, because we didn’t get sick. Bad, because the break gave our immune system a false sense of security. It needs contact with germs to stay vigilant and without this exposure for almost two years, it is likely to overact at even the most benign threat. Lots of us have already experienced the effects of this. A simple cold is more severe and is lasting much longer than we are used to. Especially since the flu is anticipated to be tough stuff, it makes sense to get tested if you are sick. Early treatment with prescription antiviral meds can ease the severity of the flu, and can protect the people in your home from getting sick. So, no, we don’t need to test daily, but with symptoms, testing makes sense.

It is my hope during the last nineteen months we have learned something about our social responsibilities when we are ill. Being cognizant of our contagious status has always been wise, but maybe now, staying away from other people when we are sick with any transmissible illness will be more acceptable. Instead of showing up sick being a sign of toughness and a strong work ethic, it should be seen as reckless. Sick days should be used not only when we feel too lousy to go to school or work, but also when we should keep our germs to ourselves. In order for this to happen, teachers and employers will have to encourage sick students and employees to stay home while making it easier to make up missed work. This will require a change in thinking, but if there has ever been a time for a cultural shift to one of holistic wellness, it is now.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better.