The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
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What Is the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19?

What Is the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19?

With flu season right around the corner, healthcare providers are going to be challenged with differentiating flu from COVID-19. There are several similarities and differences: Of course, both are contagious respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses.Flu is caused by infection with the influenza virus, while COVID-19 is caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2.

This year, patients may present with symptoms that are common to both:

  • 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
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

To confirm if a patient is positive for flu versus COVID-19, we need to have them tested. Testing is important because COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu, causes more severe illness, and patients with COVID-19 are contagious for a longer time than those with flu. Patients who have COVID-19 may present with symptoms 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus; they may present with flu-like symptoms, but also state a change in, or loss of, taste or smell. Patients with COVID-19 typically present with the following warning signs: difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

We currently do not have a vaccine for COVID-19, but we need to encourage our patients to get the flu vaccine this year. Everyone aged 6 months and older should receive influenza vaccination. Older adults should receive the high-dose versus the standard-dose vaccine. Additionally, patients at high risk for flu complications may also be at higher risk for COVID-19 and should get their influenza vaccination. A resource to help your patients find where they can get vaccinated against the flu is available at


Filed under: Infectious Diseases, Public Health

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