COVID-19 or Just the Flu?

COVID-19 or Just the Flu?

COVID-19 or Just the Flu?


Curious to know the answer to one of the most frequently asked questions from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic? Though caused by different viruses, COVID-19 and the flu have striking similarities, making it pretty hard for people to know what’s what. However, there are differences in a patient’s vulnerability to these two diseases, as well how each is treated. 

Let’s start with the similarities: 

  1. COVID-19 and influenza are both diseases of the respiratory system, causing symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, and fatigue. 
  2. Both are spread similarly, that is through droplets in the air. Infected people who cough, sneeze, talk, sing, or even breathe run the risk of passing the virus to people nearby. Both diseases can also be passed through infected surfaces. 
  3. COVID-19 and influenza are potentially fatal. 
  4. Older people, those suffering from chronic conditions like chronic cardiac, pulmonary, renal, metabolic, neurologic, liver or hematologic diseases, or those who are immunosuppressed such as chemotherapy patients and HIV/AIDS patients all run the highest risk of contracting both COVID-19 and the flu. Even healthcare workers and pregnant women are placed in the high risk category for both illnesses. 
  5. Both require the same countermeasures for protection:
    1. Wear a mask 
    2. Keep at least 6 feet distance between yourself and others
    3. Avoid crowds 
    4. Sanitize hands and surfaces frequently 
    5. Cough and sneeze into a bent elbow or tissues 
    6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
    7. Stay home if you are sick
  6. Effective vaccines are available for preventing both diseases. 

So what are the main differences? Here’s a simple table to help: 






COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus strain.

Influenza can be caused by influenza virus types A, B or C. 


COVID-19 takes 2-14 days (typically 5 days) for an infected person to start experiencing symptoms.   

Influenza takes 1-4 days for an infected person to start experiencing symptoms.  


COVID-19 is incredibly contagious and spreads quickly. 

Influenza is moderately contagious and does not spread as quickly. 


COVID-19 usually causes a loss of taste or smell. 

Influenza rarely causes a loss of taste or smell. 


COVID-19 can cause post-COVID conditions such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS), black lung, blood clots, etc.   

Influenza can cause complications such as secondary bacterial infections,.which are more common among flu patients than COVID-19 patients.  


Treatment involves oxygen, corticosteroids, IL6 receptor blockers, and ventilators. 

Treatment involves antiviral drugs. 


Prevention can be achieved through a COVID-19 vaccine, not an influenza vaccine.

Prevention can be achieved through an influenza vaccine, not a COVID-19 vaccine.


It may be hard to tell the difference just by looking at a sick person, as symptoms of both these viral infections are incredibly similar. However, in any case it is recommended that a patient be tested immediately for COVID-19. If they test positive, quarantine measures can be taken, and the right treatment can be given on time. However, if it turns out to be the flu, don't brush it off as ‘just the flu’. Hygiene measures still apply, and patients should be given antiviral drugs and sufficient isolation.  


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