Similar, but Different: A Look at COVID-19 and the Flu
We’ve been facing the COVID-19 pandemic for months now. But with the arrival of fall comes the beginning of flu season—and with it, lots of questions.
The two illnesses have many similar symptoms, so how can you tell the difference between them?
The Facts About COVID-19 and the Flu
There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to COVID-19 and the flu. One common misconception is that COVID-19 is simply a severe form of the flu.
But that’s not true. Both illnesses are caused by viruses, but they are caused by different viruses.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, a grouping of viruses identified in the 1960s that until recently have infected animals. On the other hand, the flu is a respiratory disease caused by strains of a virus known as “influenza.”
The Differences Between COVID-19 and the Flu
Viral illnesses in general cause many overlapping symptoms. The flu and COVID-19 are no exception.
The two illnesses have many similar symptoms, but there are also some symptoms that are usually only seen in those who have COVID-19. See our chart for a handy guide to symptoms related to each condition.
Beyond actual symptoms, there are a few other key differences between the two conditions. For one, COVID-19 seems to spread much more easily than the seasonal flu. That’s why we’ve implemented infection control measures such as the use of face coverings and social distancing.
COVID-19 typically also causes more severe illness than the flu. One last distinction is that a person exposed to the flu typically develops symptoms much more quickly than someone exposed to COVID-19.
Why a Flu Shot Is Especially Important This Year
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that nearly everyone age 6 months and older be vaccinated against the flu each year. But being vaccinated is particularly important this year.
The flu season isn’t expected to be severe, but there’s a potential for what experts are calling a “twindemic,” as the COVID-19 pandemic and the flu season overlap.
Since there is a vaccine to prevent the flu, getting a flu shot this fall can help you boost your immune system and protect you from one of the two viruses out in full force. Experts recommend getting your flu shot by the end of October, but if you need to get it later, you’ll still have some protection against the flu.
You can also take other steps to prevent the flu. Many of the same protective measures we’ve been taking against COVID-19, such as wearing masks, limiting time around others and maintaining social distance, will also help lower your risk of getting the flu. And be sure to wash your hands often.