Flu or COVID-19? – How Do You Know The Difference?

COVID-19 and flu share some serious resemblances, and it is critical to understand what type of infection is causing illness, as each one requires a different treatment. While they are both contagious respiratory diseases caused by viruses and can have some of the same symptoms, there are some differences in how they affect people.

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This article explains everything you need to differentiate between these two diseases.

Similarities between COVID-19 and the Flu

Common Symptoms

The flu and COVID-19 can both be asymptomatic, mild, severe, or even fatal. Fevers, coughs, difficulty breathing, body aches, runny noses, tiredness, sore throats, headaches, diarrhoea, and sometimes vomiting are common symptoms.


Both COVID-19 and the flu virus can spread through person to person contact. The most common way, the transmission of flu and COVID-19 happens is when a person is exposed, to the germs released through coughing, talking, or sneezing by an infected person.

It is possible for those infected with the COVID-19 or the flu to not realize that they are sick for several days, and in the meantime, they may unintentionally spread the disease to others.

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Differences between COVID-19 and the Flu

Causes of COVID-19 and Flu

The 2019 coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, is a virus that causes a respiratory illness. There are different strains of SARS-CoV-2, that vary in how severe they are and how easily they spread.

The spread of the flu is caused by a virus called influenza. The two main types of influenza viruses are influenza A and influenza B. Influenza A can further be classified, into a few subtypes. A new strain of flu emerges and become prevalent in many countries every year.


Despite showing some similarities, we know that there are few differences in the disease course and symptom severity of COVID-19 and the flu.

Initial symptoms of COVID-19 are milder, and they develop gradually. Both children and adults show similar kinds of symptoms. It takes somewhere between 1-14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop. An infected person might not even feel sick or show any mild symptoms and can still spread the virus to other people. Some COVID-19 symptoms also include loss of appetite and sudden loss of sense of taste or smell. Although, these symptoms occur with some strains of other viruses too.

However, the symptoms of flu are often sudden. It is also rare for a person infected with flu to lose their sense of smell or taste but can have symptoms similar to COVID-19. It is not compulsory for a person affected by the flu to have a fever. Moreover, digestive problems such as vomiting and diarrhoea are more common in children who have the flu.

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Incubation Period

An incubation period is a period between the first sign of infection and the first symptom.

The incubation period for COVID-19 can vary from 2 to14 days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average incubation period is around 4 to 5 days.

Whereas the incubation period for the flu is much shorter, estimated to be around 1 to 4 days and averaging just two days


People infected with COVID-19 can have serious complications such as chest pain, confusion, drowsiness, blue face or lips and difficulty breathing and must seek immediate medical attention and must be hospitalized, if necessary.

The most effective way to prevent flu sickness is to take the flu vaccine. You might still feel ill even if you get the flu after being vaccinated. You can also get prescribed antiviral medications from any third party pharma manufacturing company to lessen the effect of the flu.

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