Flu or COVID

Is it the Flu or COVID? Symptoms, Differences, Treatment

Due to the efforts of numerous institutions and scientists worldwide, information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and influenza is becoming more widely available.

COVID-19 and influenza are contagious respiratory infections spread by infected droplets dispersed in the air. They affect your lungs and disrupt the regular oxygen flow for proper diagnosis and treatment schedule, leading to a problematic breathing pattern.

An infected person can spread both viruses for days before exhibiting any noticeable signs of infection. Although the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu may look similar, these two conditions are triggered by different causative agents.

Symptoms of Flu and COVID-19

As with influenza (flu), patients with COVID-19 experience fever and respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and sore throats, at the onset; however, in extreme cases, symptoms of COVID-19 may include nasal congestion and difficulty breathing.  

  • The most common symptoms of flu and COVID-19 include:
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (frequent in children)
  • Dry cough
  • Red-eye
  • Loss of taste and smell.

Patients with weak immunity may experience severe symptoms such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and pneumonia, resulting in multiple organs failure or death.

Differences between Flu and COVID

Since COVID-19 and flu are diseases caused by viruses, patients may experience similar symptoms, and it may be difficult diagnosing your condition based on symptoms. Therefore, your doctor may order several medical tests to diagnose your condition. The common difference between COVID-19 and influenza include:

Causative agent

COVID-19 belongs to the family Coronaviridae and is caused by SARS-CoV-2. The outer surface of SARS-CoV-2 is coated with glycoprotein spikes, providing a crown-like appearance. This glycoprotein triggers an immune response, enabling coronavirus particles in the body’s cells.

In contrast, influenza belongs to the family Orthomyxoviridae and introduces antigens into cells in the body. This reaction triggers an immune response which results in the replication of influenza viruses capable of causing damages to living cells.

Severity of Illness

COVID-19 is a more complicated and deadlier illness than influenza, possibly because our body has no immunity to this new strain virus.

While both diseases have similar symptoms, about 3% of COVID-19 cases result in death, compared to 0.1% from influenza. The risk of complications increases with aging. For proper diagnosis and treatment, schedule an appointment with your primary healthcare provider if you experience any symptoms above.

Incubation Period

Influenza symptoms appear 1-4 days after exposure to the influenza virus; in contrast, COVID-19 symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure to SARS-CoV-2. It means that the flu spread faster than COVID-19.

How to prevent COVID-19 and Flu

Standard preventive measures to minimize the risk of contracting flu or COVID-19 include:

  • Annual vaccination
  • Adhere to social distance protocols, especially if you are a high-risk individual
  • Wearing a face mask in public spaces
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, sanitize with an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Avoid social gatherings of more than 50 people.
  • Covering your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Disinfecting exposed and frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, electronics, and light switch

Treatments for COVID-19 and Influenza 

While several treatment options for COVID-19 are in a clinical trial, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of remdesivir to treat COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) regularly updates COVID-19 treatment guidelines to provide new treatment options.

The FDA approves the use of Prescription influenza antiviral drugs in treating flu, especially in high-risk individuals. In most cases, you can safely treat mild symptoms of both diseases at home.


The following complications can result from COVID-19 and flu infections:

  • Pneumonia
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome 
  • A cardiac injury such as stroke and heart attack
  • Respiratory failure
  • Sepsis
  • Multiple-organ failure
  • Inflammation of the heart and muscle tissues
  • Blood clotting in the veins and arteries

Mild symptoms of COVID-19 and flu may resolve without treatment; however, if you experience severe discomfort requiring hospitalization, seek emergency medical care. Taking preventive measures is necessary to keep you healthy.