The Flu vs. COVID-19: What’s the Difference?

Posted: Sep 30th, 2022 at 12:00AM - by Melissa Tripp

woman putting on mask

A change of seasons often leads to illness and this is even more dramatic during the colder times of the year. Flu season is upon us, and with cases of COVID-19 still popping up, illness can strike just about anyone. Feeling sick during the colder months of the year can be overwhelming and leave you with many questions. Are your sniffles, fever, and stuffy nose due to the flu or have you caught COVID-19?

COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory illnesses that spread through infected air droplets. They share some common symptoms, and it can be hard to tell the difference without getting a COVID test. However, there are some crucial differences between the two diseases that can help you better understand what you're dealing with.

Knowing the differences between the flu vs COVID-19 can help you determine the next step. So, we've put together a critical comparison of the two illnesses.

Flu vs COVID-19: How Are They Alike?

First, what do influenza and COVID-19 have in common?

1. How the Viruses Spread

Both influenza and COVID-19 can spread from person to person similarly. The viruses are spread when individuals touch infected surfaces and then touch their faces, or through respiratory droplets from an infected person when they cough, sneeze, or talk. This is why the CDC urged us to wear masks during the pandemic — and many people still are.

2. Symptoms

As we said, COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory illnesses, and respiratory illnesses often share similar symptoms. Some common signs and symptoms in both viruses are

  • Coughing.
  • Fever.
  • A runny nose.
  • Body aches.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue.

When infected with the viruses, the symptoms can fail to show (asymptomatic).  They can also be mild, severe, and even fatal.

3. Complications

People suffering from COVID-19 and the flu can have similar complications. They include:

  • Respiratory failure.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Sepsis.
  • Heart, brain, or tissue inflammation.
  • Bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Cardiac injury.
  • Multiple-organ failure.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Man coughing into arm

4. The Severity of the Illness

All age groups can contract the COVID-19 virus and the flu virus. However, some are more likely to be affected by the diseases than others. These groups include:

  • Older people
  • People with chronic health disorders
  • Anyone with an immunosuppressive illness
  • Pregnant women
  • Healthcare workers

As a gentle reminder, this is why our individual choices aren't always personal. Choosing not to get vaccinated (more on this in a moment) means you're endangering the health of people around you — especially those who are immunocompromised in some way.

5. Prevention

Hands down, the best way to avoid contracting both COVID-19 and the flu is by getting vaccinated. While neither vaccine 100% guarantees that you won't get the virus, should you become infected, it'll help lessen your symptoms as well as the duration of your illness. Plus, getting vaccinated helps you to protect the people you come into contact with. (And no, vaccines don't make you sick. This is merely a myth.)

Get your flu shot with e7 Health. We can also help you with COVID-19 testing.

What are the Differences Between COVID-19 and the Flu?

There are several differences between COVID-19 and the flu. Some differences can be seen in causes, transmission, severity, and treatment.

1. Causes

COVID-19 and influenza are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, while the influenza virus causes the flu.

2. Transmission

While it's true that both the flu virus and the COVID-19 virus spread similarly, there's still one key difference. The COVID-19 virus is more contagious than flu viruses and spreads faster than the flu. According to studies, the transmission rate of COVID-19 is higher than that of influenza.

Woman sneezing and wiping nose

3. Symptoms and Severity

While many of the symptoms overlap, there are unique symptoms that differentiate COVID-19 from the flu virus. Symptoms specific to COVID include:

  • Loss of taste and smell.
  • Confusion.
  • Pale skin, lips, and nail beds.
  • Persistent pressure in the chest.
  • Difficulty concentrating.

The flu symptoms appear suddenly, mostly between one to four days, while COVID-19 symptoms develop more gradually. It can take up to two weeks for the symptoms to fully start to show.

The World Health Organization states that approximately 15% of COVID-19 cases are severe and 5% are critical. And there is a greater risk of complications when infected with COVID-19 compared to the flu. Some people may experience new health complications, such as blood clots and multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

4. Treatment

Most people with the flu don't require treatment, as the illness will clear up on its own. However, high-risk people should seek medical treatment to avoid complications. Doctors can prescribe antiviral drugs that may treat and reduce how long the virus lasts.

In most cases, COVID-19 will also go away on its own. Most of the treatment options available for COVID-19 are still being tested, but the U.S Food and Drug Administration has approved one drug known as remdesivir for the treatment of COVID-19 in certain individuals.

How You Can Protect Yourself from the Flu and COVID-19

During the colder months, we're all more prone to illness, especially because we're spending more time indoors, where the air is more polluted and we're in closer contact with others. Let's talk about a few ways to protect yourself (and those around you).

  1. Get vaccinated: Getting both influenza and COVID-19 vaccines is the best way to protect yourself from the severity of the diseases. You need the flu shot each year because the strain changes. Make sure you're up to date on your COVID shot, including any boosters, if necessary.
  2. Help contain germs and bacteria: Wear a well-fitted mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Keep your hands off your face: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. This is how many viruses start!
  4. Take COVID-19 tests throughout the year: Should you become infected, you'll know to respond accordingly.

COVID-19 and the flu share similar symptoms, and it's possible to get infected with both diseases simultaneously. If you experience any symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu, visit your healthcare provider to get tested and determine the next steps. Contact e7 Health today for all of your vaccination and testing needs.

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