How to Tell the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19

misc image

How to Tell the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19

No one wants to get sick, especially with the flu or COVID-19. They can both cause serious illness, but these respiratory conditions are very different and come with different risks. Determining whether you have the flu or COVID-19 can help protect you and those around you, even if your symptoms seem mild.

At The Doctor’s House in Edina, Minnesota, Dr. Adepero Okulaja provides exceptional and convenient internal medicine services, including diagnosing and treating the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19.

If you feel unwell, here’s how to tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19, the coronavirus that appeared in 2019 and quickly turned into a pandemic.

It’s more than symptoms alone

The tricky thing with COVID-19 and the flu is that they share numerous symptoms, including:

  • Cough
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Sore throat 
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 
  • Chills and fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

However, one of their shared symptoms happens far more frequently with COVID-19: changes in or a lost sense of smell or taste. 

Also, while COVID-19 and the flu share many symptoms, they usually don’t strike at the same time. A person who has the flu typically develops symptoms within 1-4 days of exposure to an influenza virus; when exposed to the coronavirus, it can take anywhere from 2-14 days for symptoms to occur.

Unfortunately, you can spread both of these viruses for at least one day before you have any symptoms. And, if you have COVID-19, you can be contagious for far longer than with the flu. 

The differences between COVID-19 and the flu

Because COVID-19 and the flu share so many symptoms, it’s usually difficult to determine which illness you have without testing. And one of the main reasons to do that is because of the differences in these viruses that you can’t see.

Both COVID-19 and the flu can cause serious illness, including pneumonia, respiratory distress syndrome, heart attacks, and organ failure. However, the difference with COVID-19 is that these viruses spread far faster than the flu and cause severe illness more frequently than influenza.

Sadly, the mortality rates seen with COVID-19 are also much higher than with the flu. To provide perspective, in March 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 70 million Americans had COVID-19, and over 940,000 had died. In comparison, approximately 38 million people had influenza during the 2019-2020 flu season, and around 22,000 lost their lives.

Because COVID-19 and the flu can seem so similar on the surface, it’s important to be vigilant to protect yourself and others from the spread of these illnesses. If you feel under the weather, take extra precautions, such as:

  • Stay home and call your health care provider
  • Get tested for COVID-19
  • Think about who you’ve been in close contact with and whether they had a COVID-19 diagnosis
  • Monitor your health closely, and don’t ignore fevers or respiratory symptoms
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently 
  • Wear a mask if you have to leave home
  • Clean surfaces you touch at home often with disinfectant

Finally, don’t wait to seek urgent care or emergency services if your symptoms become severe, especially if it becomes difficult to breathe.

If you have flu or COVID-19 symptoms, contact The Doctor’s House to schedule an appointment by calling 612-333-4834 or booking a visit online today.