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How to Tell if You Have the Flu or COVID-19

Thursday, October 29, 2020 12:36 PM
Tags: flu,COVID-19

By: Lauren McRae

With the flu season here, many people who will get sick this time of year may be unsure whether they have Influenza (flu) or COVID-19 since many of the symptoms are similar.

Sick Person

Getting the flu vaccine every year is the best way to prevent infection with influenza, a virus that can cause many of the same symptoms as COVID-19, including fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and even death. Particularly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more important to be vaccinated against the flu to help prevent influenza, avoid a mistaken diagnosis of COVID-19 and preserve healthcare resources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common symptoms that COVID-19 and influenza share include:

• Fever or feeling feverish/chills
• Cough
• Shortness of Breath
• Fatigue (feeling tired)
• Sore throat
• Runny and stuffy nose
• Muscle pain or body aches
• Headache
• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children)

What are the main differences between flu and COVID-19?
Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, including the common signs and symptoms listed above. The SARS-CoV-2 virus (cause of COVID-19) seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people, and has caused more deaths in the United States than are usually caused by flu viruses in a typical year. The sudden loss of taste and smell is a symptom that differentiates COVID-19 from the flu; generally, the flu does not cause the loss of these senses.

How long after exposure to the virus do symptoms appear?
For both COVID-19 and flu, one or more days can pass from the time of exposure to when they start to experience illness symptoms. If a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to develop symptoms than if they had flu. When someone contracts the flu, typically a person will develop symptoms anywhere 1-4 days after being exposed. When someone contracts COVID-19, they develop symptoms 5 days after being exposed (on average). However, symptoms can appear as early as 2 days after exposure or as late as 14 days after exposure.

How do both viruses spread?
Both COVID-19 and the flu can spread from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with each other (within about 6 feet). Both illnesses are spread mainly by droplets made when people who have the illness (COVID-19 or flu) cough, sneeze, or talk, and the droplets are inhaled through the lungs.

People can contract the viruses through physical contact (for example, shaking hands) or by touching a surface or object that has virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.

What’s the difference?
While COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread in similar ways, COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more super spreading events than flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people over a short period of time.

Who is at risk for flu and COVID-19 infections?
Both viruses can cause severe illness and complications. Those at the highest risk include: older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, and pregnant women. The risk of complications for healthy children is higher for flu compared to COVID-19. However, infants and children with underlying medical conditions are at an increased risk for both.

What are the complications of flu and COVID-19 infections?
Both COVID-19 and flu can result in complications like: pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in lungs), sepsis, vascular injury (strokes, blood clots, heart attacks), multiple-organ failure, worsening of chronic medical conditions, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues, and secondary bacterial infections.

What are the treatment options for flu and COVID-19?
Individuals who present for care early in their infection with influenza may be eligible for antiviral treatments that have been proven to shorten the severity and duration of infection with influenza. Currently, there are no cures for COVID-19. Patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 may receive steroids or the antiviral medication Remdesivir, depending on when they present in the course of their illness. Other potential treatments are available through clinical trials that are evaluating experimental therapies that have not yet been proven to work.

What are the vaccination options for flu and COVID-19?
It is especially important this year to protect yourself with the Influenza vaccine. Generally speaking, anyone 6 months and older is recommended to receive the flu vaccine. We do know that people can get infected with both flu and COVID-19, so it is important to vaccinate yourself against the flu. There are currently several trials underway evaluating the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines but there is no vaccine available yet.


Schedule your flu shot appointment online with NorthShoreConnectFor more information about Flu Prevention, visit here.