The Difference Between COVID-19 and Influenza

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, any cough, sniffle, or early sign of illness may make you wonder if you have the flu or COVID-19. The fact is, influenza (the flu) and COVID-19 do share a number of similar symptoms. So, how can you tell the difference?

Internal medicine specialists Syed Farhat Zaidi, MD, and Saba Jafri, MD, of Integrative Primary Care in Houston want to clear up the confusion. Read on to learn how you can tell these two illnesses apart.

Similarities between COVID-19 and influenza

Both COVID-19 and the flu bring about many of the same symptoms, all of which can make you feel unwell. Both viruses are spread from person to person when particles from an infected person’s mouth or nose come in contact with an uninfected person.

An uninfected person can get the flu or COVID-19 by inhaling the particles or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth or nose. Both viruses can also be spread before the infected person has symptoms or knows they’re sick. 

Both COVID-19 and the flu can cause similar symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, such as the following: 

In addition, both the flu and COVID-19 can result in pneumonia and gastrointestinal symptoms. Unfortunately, both viruses can also be fatal in some cases. 

Because COVID-19 and influenza are caused by viruses, neither illness can be treated with antibiotics. Instead, treatment for these viral illnesses involves managing symptoms, including fever reduction. Severe cases of either illness may require hospitalization or the use of a machine to help regulate breathing, called a ventilator. 

You can work to prevent the spread of both COVID-19 and the flu by engaging in frequent hand washing, coughing into your sleeve or elbow, staying home when you’re sick, limiting your contact with infected people, and wearing a mask.

Differences between COVID-19 and the flu

While both COVID-19 and influenza are viral infections, the diseases are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Influenza, on the other hand, can be caused by a number of different types and strains of influenza viruses that circulate every year. 

In addition, many people (45%) who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic. This means they don’t feel sick at all and never develop symptoms, but they can still transmit the virus to others. With the flu, on the other hand, you can expect to develop symptoms of the illness.

COVID-19 also has a unique symptom: sudden loss of smell or taste. In about one-quarter of COVID-19 cases, sudden loss of smell or taste is the first symptom to appear, and you may develop this even if you don’t develop any other symptoms. 

Moreover, COVID-19 tends to last longer than the flu. Symptoms of the flu generally last 4-5 days, although you may be sick for up to one week. COVID-19, on the other hand, may last 10 days or longer. 

Diagnosing and treating COVID-19 and influenza

With both COVID-19 and influenza, prevention is the best medicine. It’s best to follow the health guidelines given by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These include washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask, social distancing, and avoiding contact with infected persons. 

If you suspect you’re sick, tests for COVID-19 and the flu are available. Antiviral medicines may be available to help you manage your symptoms. 

You can also help prevent getting sick by getting the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your provider at Integrative Primary Care about one or both vaccines to get the latest information available. And if you have symptoms of either COVID-19 or influenza, get testing and treatment right away.

To learn more about the vaccines for the flu or COVID-19, book an appointment online or over the phone with Integrative Primary Care today.

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