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COVID-19 vs. the Flu. What’s the Difference?

It’s that time of year when everyone is talking about the upcoming influenza (flu) season.  But this year, during the worldwide healthcare pandemic, it’s even more important to recognize the signs and symptoms that accompany the flu.  And because the flu shares some of the same symptoms as COVID-19, let’s take a look at some of the similarities as well as the differences in the two. 

While there are still many unknowns about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, we do know that influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses.  But they are caused by different viruses.  COVID-19 is caused by infection with the new coronavirus and the flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

Symptom similarities:  Both illnesses can cause fever, cough, fatigue, headaches and muscle/body aches. Especially in children, they can both also cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Symptom differences:  Oftentimes with COVID-19, the patient develops a new loss of taste/smell and some patients are reporting shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. After being infected with the flu, patients usually show symptoms within 1-4 days while patients with COVID-19 tend to have a slower onset of symptoms (2-14 days) after being exposed to the virus.

Complication similarities:  Both the flu and COVID-19 can result in complications, especially in the elderly and for those with chronic illnesses.  According to the CDC, many of the complications can be severe and should be treated immediately.  These include worsening of symptoms, respiratory distress or failure, heart issues, and development of secondary infections.

Complication differences:  Under normal circumstances, most people with the flu will recover in a few days.  Patients with COVID-19 tend to have symptoms and are contagious for longer than flu patients.

Treatment similarities:  Whether you have the flu or COVID-19, it is important that you get plenty of rest and stay well hydrated.  Over-the-counter medications can be taken to reduce fever and to relieve symptoms of cough, congestion and nausea.

Treatment differences:  If you are diagnosed with the flu, oral antiviral medications are available to help with symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness.  Unfortunately, there is no antiviral treatment for COVID-19.  Patients are encouraged to monitor their symptoms carefully and if the symptoms get worse, contact their healthcare provider immediately.

Prevention:  No vaccines are available yet to prevent COVID-19, though development and testing are in progress.  The best way to prevent COVID-19 spread is to practice social distancing, wear a facemask when around others and remember to wash your hands regularly.

As for the flu, there is fortunately an effective vaccine available for prevention of some of the most dangerous types of flu.  This vaccine also helps reduce the severity and duration of the illness.

Stop by your local AFC, no appointment needed, and protect yourself with a flu vaccine today!

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