How to Tell If You Have the Flu or COVID-19

November 12, 2020
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woman blowing her nose

With winter weather fast approaching, you might wonder if you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or the flu. Sure signs of flu are fever/chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue.

Dr. Brian Sutton of Baystate Health Urgent Care outlines the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu.

COVID-19 vs. Flu Symptom Comparison

COVID-19 and the flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, while the flu is caused by influenza viruses. Symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can be similar and can range from no symptoms to severe symptoms.

There are some differences between the symptoms, as shown in the following chart.

(click to download/view pdf)

Flu Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu is a “contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.” Symptoms can come up suddenly and vary in severity.

Symptoms of flu include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (Most common in children)

COVID-19 Symptoms

The CDC says COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV2, a different virus from the influenza that is similarly contagious.

The most common COVID-19 symptoms are:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms may become noticeable anywhere from 2-14 days after becoming infected.

Key Differences

COVID-19 and the flu share many symptoms. The CDC says you may need to get tested to know whether you’re infected with COVID-19 or not.

Here are some key differences between the two illnesses.

  • The flu has a vaccine. COVID-19 does not.
  • Flu symptoms may appear faster than COVID-19 symptoms.
  • COVID-19 is contagious for a longer period of time than the flu.

Check with your primary care provider if you are unsure about what is causing your symptoms.

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