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COVID-19 vs the Flu

Published on Sep. 28, 2021

Can you tell the difference? Here’s What to Do if You Feel Any Symptoms…

Each year as the leaves change color and the temperatures cool, flu season begins to ramp up. If you’ve ever had the flu, you probably know all too well just how much it can exhaust and weaken your body, sidelining you for days or even weeks.

For some, flu symptoms can get so bad that they need to be hospitalized. Flu symptoms can even become deadly too. Tens of thousands of people lose their lives to the flu each year, according to CDC estimates.

The flu is always a concern, especially for our most vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly. But this year, we face the challenge of fighting both the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously – under a very different set of circumstances than compared to last year.

“Last year we were protected by the shutdowns and masking, so flu cases were down. That is NOT the case this year in spite of the highly contagious Delta variant,” explains Munson Healthcare’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Nefcy, MD. “Flu season can begin to peak at any time, and we’ve already had a few positive cases.”

To complicate matters, both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 share many similar symptoms. So what can you do?

First, protect yourself and others. Take the single most important action against both illnesses by getting both your COVID-19 vaccine AND your flu shot, which can be done in one doctor’s visit. In addition, both illnesses can be prevented with the following measures:

  • Mask up in public
  • Wash your hands often
  • Practice physical distancing of 6-feet or more in public
  • Stay home if you feel ill
  • Avoid people who are sick
Find a Vaccine Location

Next, understand just how similar flu vs COVID-19 symptoms really are (though they are treated very differently). See how similar their symptoms are in the chart below.


COVID-19 vs the Flu Symptoms: How Similar Are They?

 

 

Flu (influenza)

COVID-19

Cause

Different types of flu viruses that spread each year.

A type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

How it Spreads

Through coughing, sneezing, talking, or touching infected surfaces and touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Through coughing, sneezing, talking, or touching infected surfaces and touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Current research shows that COVID spreads more easily than the flu, but not as easily as measles.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms range from mild to severe and can vary widely, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, more often in children

COVID-19 symptoms can range from no symptoms to severe, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Feeling short of breath
  • New loss of taste or smell

 

When Symptoms Start

Usually 1 to 4 days after infection

Typically 5 days after infection, but can start 2 to 14 days after infection

How Long a Person is Contagious

A person can spread the flu at least 1 day before symptoms begin.

Older kids and adults are most contagious for the first 3 to 4 days of symptoms. Spreading can continue up to 7 days after symptoms start.

Babies and people with weak immune systems can be contagious longer

It’s possible for a person to spread the virus about 2-3 days before symptoms start.

COVID-19 is most contagious 1-2 days before you begin to feel ill.

Symptoms begin to appear about 5 days following contact with the virus.

Most people can spread the virus up to 10 days after symptoms start, including those with no symptoms (asymptomatic) or those whose symptoms have gone away. A 14-day quarantine is recommended to ensure you do not spread the virus to others.

Possible Complications

Can include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Ear infection
  • Inflammation of muscle tissues (myositis or rhabdomyolysis)
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
  • Multiple-organ failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis
  • Sinus infection
  • Worsening of chronic conditions of the lungs, heart, and nervous system
  • Worsening of diabetes

Can include:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Heart attack
  • Inflammation of muscle tissues (myositis or rhabdomyolysis)
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
  • Multiple-organ failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Sepsis
  • Stroke
  • Worsening of chronic conditions of the lungs, heart, and nervous system
  • Worsening of diabetes
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare complication that causes inflammation of blood vessels and organs

What to do if You Suspect You Have COVID-19 or the Flu

Because COVID-19 and the flu share many similar symptoms, it’s easy to confuse them – what you might suspect is the flu could really be COVID-19 or vice versa. Either way, here’s what to do.

Mild to Moderate Symptoms.  Please stay home and get tested so you know for certain whether or not you have COVID-19, the flu, or something else. Knowing which illness you have can ensure you receive the right treatment, such as monoclonal antibody therapy if you have COVID. Once you receive your test results, call your doctor right away so he/she can advise you on next steps.

In the meantime, STAY HOME, drink fluids like water and soup broth, and get plenty of rest. Be sure to closely monitor your symptoms and seek immediate medical help if your symptoms become severe (such as you are struggling to breathe).

Find a Covid-19 Testing Location Near You
Free testing is available!

If your symptoms are severe. If you’re experiencing any of these emergency warning signs of flu or of COVID-19, seek immediate help by calling your doctor right away or dialing 9-1-1.

Not sure what to do? Call your family doctor. Your doctor may be able to meet with you via a virtual visit, where your doctor can advise you right from home.

You can also call our free Ask-A-Nurse line at 231-935-0951, available daily, 7 am – 11 pm. A Munson Healthcare registered nurse is on standby, ready to can direct you to the right care. Our nurses can even help connect you to our Find-A-Doc service if you don’t have a primary care provider.


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