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


For years, October through May has been known as flu season, because that is the time of year when cases are the highest. But this year, another disease is out in full force as well: COVID-19. While there are some similarities between these two viruses, there are also some notable differences.

Seniors may be at higher risk for developing more serious cases of COVID-19 or experiencing complications from the virus. Since these diseases are caused by two different viruses – the influenza virus and the coronavirus – it is possible to be infected by both at once. It is important for seniors to be aware of potential symptoms and let their doctor know if they believe they may have either disease.

Similarities Between the Flu and COVID-19

It can be difficult to differentiate between these two viruses because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified numerous overlapping symptoms including:

  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pains or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children)

Differences Between the Flu and COVID-19

Loss of taste/smell: One major difference in symptoms is that COVID-19 can cause a loss of taste or smell, and this not common with the flu. If you notice that you suddenly have trouble smelling your morning cup of coffee (and it’s not just because of nasal congestion), or foods taste differently than they normally do, you may want to let your doctor know so that you can be tested for COVID-19.

Incubation time: Another difference is that you typically begin developing symptoms of the flu within one to four days of exposure. With COVID-19, it can take anywhere from two to 14 days for symptoms to develop. In addition, COVID-19 appears to spread more quickly than the flu.

Presence of symptoms: With both the flu and COVID-19, individuals can range from asymptomatic to mild to severe cases. However, it appears that COVID-19 is associated with more severe illness than the flu, though this can vary from one person to the next. COVID-19 currently has a higher rate of mortality than the flu, and seems to cause more significant lung damage.

Treatment: There are a few antivirals that may be used to treat the flu and reduce symptoms, but currently only one antiviral – remdesivir – has been approved to treat COVID-19, and its effectiveness is still being studied.

Vaccinations: The flu vaccine has been around for decades. It changes every year based on what strain of the disease scientists believe will be most prevalent. The COVID-19 vaccine was just released in December 2020, and received an emergency use authorization. There are currently two vaccines being administered with more in development. Much like the flu vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine could prevent you from getting the virus or reduce the severity of the illness.

Preventing the Flu and COVID-19

To reduce your risk of contracting either of these viruses, the following safety precautions are recommended:

  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Wipe down commonly touched surfaces with an approved disinfectant.
  • Stay at least six feet away from others when possible.
  • Wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.
  • Avoid mass gatherings and poorly ventilated areas.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, or nose as much as possible.

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting tested. The tests for influenza and COVID-19 are different, so you may be tested for both if your doctor is unsure. Continue practicing good hygiene and safety to reduce your risk of becoming ill.

Always Best Care takes safety seriously, and all in-home caregivers in Richmond VA follow strict protocols regarding COVID-19. They are taking appropriate steps to protect themselves and the seniors they care for. To learn more or schedule a free consultation, contact Always Best Care today.

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