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Knowing the Difference Between COVID-19 and Flu

Knowing the Difference Between COVID-19 and Flu

With Flu season approaching, many people may be concerned about being able to tell the difference between whether they have contracted influenza (flu) virus or have COVID-19. Both are respiratory illnesses that are contagious and both are caused by infection. COVID-19, which many may now know, is caused by a person becoming infected with the new (or novel) coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. 

With influenza, there are two main types: Type A and Type B, which are responsible for the seasonal flu epidemics each year. 

Because so many of the symptoms are the same for flu and COVID-19, there may be some confusion about which illness is affecting you. Testing may be needed to help you confirm your accurate diagnosis. It’s also important to know that for both COVID-19 and flu, it’s possible to spread the virus to others for at least one day before you begin experiencing any symptoms. 

As you may know, the information about COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. As of now, it is known that both have varying degrees of signs and symptoms. These can include having no symptoms, or what’s called “asymptomatic.” As of now, the most common symptoms of both COVID-19 and flu include:  

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills 
  • Cough 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Fatigue (tiredness) 
  • Sore throat 
  • Runny or stuffy nose 
  • Muscle pain or body aches 
  • Headache 

Because there is great national uncertainty about the future rate and severity of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control indicates that it’s likely both the flu and coronavirus will be spreading by fall and winter. Because of that, medical experts note that getting a flu vaccine will be even more important than ever. The general medical recommendation is that all people age 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine. 

Though a worrisome thought, it’s important to know that it is also possible to have both flu and COVID-19 at the same time. There is not solid knowledge on how common that might be, as of yet. 

People should understand, however, that getting a flu vaccination will not protect against COVID-19. Having a flu vaccine, however, may help you reduce your risk of flu-related illness, hospitalization, and in severe cases, death. With many healthcare systems already strained due to COVID-19, national health and infection control experts are reminding people that routine vaccination prevents illnesses that may lead to unnecessary medical visits or hospitalizations, which puts further strain on the healthcare system. 

Be aware that the CDC is recommending that the flu vaccination should be postponed for anyone with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms. The flu shot should be delayed at least until the person meets the criteria for discontinuing isolation. 

The general timing of the flu vaccine is a fluid one each year. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices does not suggest getting a flu vaccine in the late summer. September and October tend to be the most active times for receiving the flu vaccination.