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What is the difference between Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19?

*This article was updated on April 16, 2024

When you get sick it can difficult to determine whether what you are experiencing is the common cold, the flu, or the novel coronavirus more commonly known as COVID-19.

In simple terms, Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but the flu is caused by infection with the influenza viruses while COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

Here are some of the things that studies have revealed about COVID-19 that makes it different from the flu:

  • COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu.
  • COVID-19 may cause serious illnesses in some people, particularly the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions that weaken their immune system. The flu may also cause severe illness in some people.
  • It seems to take longer before people show symptoms of COVID-19 and they may also be contagious for longer periods than if they have flu.
  • There is a widely available vaccine to protect against flu, vaccines to prevent COVID-19 are still under development.

With these in mind, the best way to prevent illness due to COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus.

If you are feeling under the weather and you are wondering whether you have the flu or COVID-19, the most effective way to identify what you have is to get tested. Covid rapid test kits are available every major pharmacy, and through major online retailers. The US government is also giving away free Covid test kits to anyone who wants them. You can order your free Covid tests from the government HERE.

Here are symptoms that can help you identify what you have and make informed decisions on how to seek treatment:

Both COVID-19 and flu have varying degrees of symptoms, which include: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

If you experience some or all of these symptoms, you need to seek immediate medical assistance by calling 911:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

For more guidance, go to: CDC

This article was written and edited by the Tayo editorial desk and has been reviewed by an independent panel of subject matter experts.

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