The Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19

The Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19

With symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu similar, what’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19.
Health officials have even created the term “twindemic” to refer to the possibility of a severe flu season and the potential second wave of coronavirus. We know the typical symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath, to name a few. But aren’t those flu symptoms too?

How Can You Tell the Difference Between COVID-19 and the flu?

First, let’s start by knowing exactly what the flu and COVID-19 are. Both are contagious respiratory infections, meaning they travel through airborne droplets from sneezing, coughing and talking. While the flu can be caused by different influenza viruses, typically types A and B, COVID-19 is caused by a single virus known as the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2.

The flu and COVID-19 share many similarities including the following, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

In both illnesses, these symptoms can range from mild to severe. For people with preexisting medical conditions, they can result in serious complications and even hospitalization.

Also, symptoms from the flu and COVID-19 tend to appear after one or more days of becoming infected. However, with COVID-19, a person can be asymptomatic for much longer, up to 14 days after infection. Typically, flu symptoms develop quickly after exposure, in about two days. In a person with COVID-19, symptoms appear later, about five days after being infected.

One key difference for COVID-19 is the loss of taste or smell, although it is not always the case. Commonalities between the two infections make it difficult to distinguish one from the other based on symptoms alone. The only reliable way to know is to get tested to confirm a diagnosis.

Don’t Delay, Get the Flu Shot Today!

Until a vaccine is widely available for COVID-19, getting the flu vaccine can help protect yourself, your family and our community. The flu can seriously compromise your immune system, increasing your risk of contracting COVID-19.

Through years of research, the flu vaccine has proven to reduce the risk of flu and flu-related issues. In fact, during 2018-2019, flu shots prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits and 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

Additional Ways to Protect Yourself and Others

Practice CDC recommendations such as social distancing, washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizers, not touching your face and covering your mouth and nose with a mask when around others. Also, stay away from people who are sick and limit the close contact you have with people outside of your household. Clean and disinfect surfaces and be alert if symptoms develop. If you begin to feel sick, Healthcare Network has primary care providers who can help.

By Cathy Brockman, RN, BSN, director of nursing for Healthcare Network

Nov 01, 2020 | COVID-19