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Flu vs. COVID-19: Similarities and Differences

Dr kathrin

The Difference Between Flu and COVID-19

Flu and COVID-19 are both highly contagious respiratory illnesses. Flu is caused by the influenza virus whereas COVID-19 is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2.

Flu Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms

When it comes to symptoms, these viruses are incredibly similar. Both run the spectrum from no symptoms at all to a severe illness requiring hospitalization. Both the Flu and COVID-19 can cause: 

  • Fever and chills
  • Trouble breathing
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more common in children

COVID-19 can also cause the infamous loss of taste and smell, but so can a nose full of mucus from the Flu!

Who is at risk for having severe symptoms?

Older people and those with other medical problems have a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 than the Flu. On the other hand, younger kids have a lower risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 than the Flu. Kids can develop a COVID-19 related condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). While serious, this condition is very rare.

When do symptoms of COVID-19 appear?

With both Flu and COVID-19, it can take a few days to show symptoms after becoming infected, and both viruses can spread prior to symptoms becoming obvious. Symptoms of Flu usually appear within 1-4 days of infection. COVID-19 can take a bit longer, most often 4-5 days, but it can be as late as 10-14 days (thus the 2-week quarantine guidelines). 

How does COVID-19 spread?

Both viruses spread between people when they are within approximately 1,5m of each other. The viruses usually spread when droplets of saliva or mucus created by talking, singing, chanting, and yelling travel from one person’s mouth or nose to another’s. They can also spread when you touch a surface contaminated with the virus – such as shaking someone’s hand – then touch your face.

How do you tell the difference between the Flu and COVID-19?

Doctors can only tell the difference between Flu and COVID-19 by testing and that’s why testing is necessary. The ability to differentiate these two viruses will be incredibly important as we make decisions regarding who’s safe to return to school and who may need to stay home a few extra days.

How is COVID-19 treated?

When it comes to treatment, nothing beats staying hydrated, resting, and staying away from others so you don’t share your germs. Most of our bodies will fight off these viruses on their own. There are several outpatient treatments available for Flu that help to shorten the illness. While there are no outpatient treatments for COVID-19, a few inpatient treatments have shown promise.


The Flu vaccine is safe, you can get body aches and mild fever from the Flu vaccine, and it’s always possible to catch a cold after getting the vaccine, but it protects you from the aggressive Influenza virus. If you’re only ever going to get one Flu vaccine in your life, this is the year.

Different Covid vaccines were just released in the last days and are in most countries not for everybody available. The information we have about the vaccines is very promising and will hopefully help us to return to normality in the near future.