The Flu vs. COVID-19

How to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu

(RxWiki News) The season is changing, and COVID-19 is still here. And with colder weather comes another threat to public health: the flu. But how can you tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu?

While COVID-19 took the world by surprise and has since taken the lives of more than 1 million people around the world, the flu remains a serious threat every year, taking hundreds of thousands of lives. Both viruses are very serious.

The good news is that you can take steps to avoid both of them. Read on for more about the similarities and differences between the flu and COVID-19, as well as how you can protect yourself.

Similarities Between COVID-19 and the Flu

The similarities between COVID-19 and the seasonal flu can make it difficult to tell which virus you might have unless you visit a doctor. For example, the symptoms of the two illnesses can be very similar. These include headaches, muscle and body aches, runny or stuffy nose, tiredness, breathing trouble, cough, and fever or chills.

Symptoms can show up in as little as one day after exposure to both the coronavirus and the flu virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And people who are infected with either virus can spread it at least one day before they show symptoms.

The flu and COVID-19 are spread from person to person in very similar ways, too. These viruses can both spread through direct contact, coughing, sneezing and talking.

Also, infections with either illness can put the following groups at serious risk: pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems and older adults.

Differences Between COVID-19 and the Flu

While it can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, there are some key differences to keep in mind.

The symptoms of the two illnesses are very similar, but COVID-19 tends to cause these symptoms to be much more serious than the flu. Additionally, COVID-19 can cause a loss of taste or smell.

Additionally, infection with either illness can show up in as little as one day after exposure, but the flu typically pops up one to four days after infection. For COVID-19, symptoms tend to show around five days after infection, the CDC noted.

The two viruses spread in very similar ways, but health officials noted that COVID-19 appears to cause more "superspreading" events in which large numbers of people are infected simultaneously.

Both COVID-19 and the flu put all people who are infected at risk, and they cause severe risks for pregnant women, older adults and those with weakened immune systems. However, the flu tends to cause serious risks among young children, but COVID-19 appears to be less likely to cause serious illness in children.

How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 and the Flu

One major similarity between the flu and COVID-19 is that you can protect yourself from both viruses in largely the same ways:

  • Wear a cloth mask in public.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is experiencing symptoms.
  • Maintain social distance.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
  • Get the flu vaccine every year. (Health officials are racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, but the same rule will apply once a vaccine is approved.)

Anyone who thinks they may have COVID-19 or the flu should seek immediate medical care. If you have questions or concerns, speak with your health care provider.

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Review Date: 
October 30, 2020