young man explaining to elder the difference between Flu and COVID

Flu vs. COVID: Understand Key Differences Before the Upcoming Flu Season

Wondering what the difference between the flu vs. COVID is? With flu season right around the corner and the Delta variant causing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases nationwide, many are looking for clarification between the two in order to know how to stay safe this fall and winter. This page provides an overview of the flu vs. COVID and answers key questions, such as:

  • What are the important differences between the flu vs. COVID?
  • Can you tell the difference between coronavirus symptoms vs. flu symptoms?
  • How can your community stay safe from COVID-19, the flu, and RSV?

Flu vs. COVID: What It Means for Your Community

“The flu” refers to an infection from an influenza virus, such as influenza A or influenza B. Click here to learn more about the different types of influenza viruses and how they change to cause seasonal epidemics of disease (“flu seasons”).

Both are respiratory illnesses

According to the CDC, both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory illnesses which can be spread through droplets containing viruses when an infected individual talks, coughs, or sneezes and another individual inhales the particles. The flu can also be spread through surface contact.

For communities around the country, this means that the upcoming fall and winter months pose additional risk of outbreaks of both COVID-19 and the flu. As proposed by the CDC, preventative measures will be critical in working to reduce particle transmission and outbreaks of both viruses.

Both can result in asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases

Along with standard infections where patients exhibit a normal severity and timeline of symptoms, the CDC states individuals who become infected with either the flu or COVID can also be either asymptomatic or presymptomatic. 

  • Asymptomatic refers to someone who tests positive for a virus but displays very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
  • Presymptomatic refers to someone who is infected with a virus but has not yet started displaying symptoms. 

Understanding this distinction is crucial to keeping communities safe during this upcoming flu season—patients who are infected with COVID-19, the flu, or both at the same time may not always exhibit typical symptoms, meaning extra vigilance is required to prevent transmission between individuals.

Both COVID-19 and the flu have vaccines available

Thankfully, there are vaccinations available for both the flu and COVID. This year, manufacturers of the influenza vaccine plan on producing around 200 million vaccines in the U.S. in anticipation for the 2021-2022 flu season. Different flu vaccine manufacturers are made for a specific age range and are therefore distributed accordingly. 

While the COVID vaccine is newer than the influenza vaccine, the CDC reassures that COVID vaccines are both safe and effective. To date, multiple COVID-19 vaccines are available in the US for adults with one approved to be administered to children over 12. As of September 3rd, more than 174 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. If you would like to receive your COVID-19 vaccine, click here to find a vaccination site near you.

The CDC states that COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than the flu

According to the CDC, when comparing the flu vs. COVID, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than any influenza virus does. Additionally, according to the CDC, superspreader events seem to be more common with COVID-19 than they are with the flu.

Similarities Between COVID-19 and Flu Symptoms

According to the CDC, the flu and COVID share multiple symptoms including:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea

Although these illnesses may appear similar through some of their symptoms, the CDC states that COVID-19 is “generally more contagious” and “can cause more serious illnesses” than the flu. Because of this, symptoms alone should not be used to diagnose an illness and it is important to get tested if any COVID-19 symptoms are displayed.

Another common respiratory virus with similar symptoms to the flu and COVID is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a respiratory virus that can be serious for infants and adults. 

According to the CDC, symptoms that RSV shares with COVID-19 and the flu include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Runny nose

Click here to learn more about RSV.

Staying Safe this Flu Season as a Community

Since the flu and COVID can produce similar symptoms to one another at various stages of infection, it’s important for communities to stay focused on testing to identify and isolate cases. By proactively testing and knowing about infections early on, communities can work to prevent transmission and help keep all community members safe.

Click here to view testing sites.

Additional safety measures the CDC recommends for individuals to stay safe from the seasonal flu include:

  • Get vaccinated each year
  • Isolate from those who are sick and self-isolate if you are sick
  • Keep your nose and mouth covered, as flu viruses spread mainly through respiratory droplets
  • Maintain healthy habits, including regular exercise, a good diet, managing stress, and getting enough sleep
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