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Is it the flu or coronavirus? There's one key difference

Is it the flu or coronavirus? There's one key difference
Posted at 9:50 AM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 21:07:18-04

You cough, have a sore throat, maybe a fever. Is it the flu or COVID-19?

Health officials have been warning all summer that this fall and winter could be brutal, with the seasonal flu season in addition to the coronavirus pandemic. Some are calling it a potential “twindemic,” two pandemics at once.

Nearly every health official, from small town clinics to the CDC is recommending everyone get the flu vaccine this year.

While the flu shot is not shown to protect against coronavirus, medical experts say it will keep you healthy this fall and winter and therefore more able to fight the coronavirus if you get it.

Wearing a mask also helps protect against both the flu and COVID-19, since both are transmitted through the air, when an infected person breathes, coughs, sings, talks, etc. and nearby people inhale the small particles of the virus in the air. Droplets can also land on surfaces, so washing your hands often and keeping your hands away from your face is also good advice to stop the spread of both.

The flu virus and coronavirus have many symptoms in common. Including:

  • 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
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

And both can infect a person with no symptoms. Both the flu and COVID-19 can result in serious complications, like pneumonia or death.

What’s different? COVID-19 has been linked to a sudden change or a loss in your sense of smell or taste.

It also, on average, takes longer for COVID-19 symptoms to appear after infection. On average, if you are exposed to the flu, symptoms appear in 1-4 days. COVID-19 patients report anywhere from 2-14 days between exposure and symptoms.

The CDC estimates that between October 1, 2019 to April 4, 2020, roughly 40 to 56 million Americans got the flu virus. Of those, between 24,000 to 62,000 Americans died from flu-related causes. These are estimates because many people self-treat and recover from the flu at home without seeing a healthcare professional, so the tracking may be off.

However, the CDC estimates flu cases will be higher in 2020 because of the overlap with the coronavirus and an increase in testing to rule out COVID-19 infections.