First Choice Neurology

What is the Difference Between COVID-19 and Flu?

COVID-19 and flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses. Although the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can look similar, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses.

Both the flu and COVID-19 spread in similar ways, but COVID-19 seems to spread more easily. Droplets from an infected person can transmit the virus in the air, while the other person(s) can inhale them and become infected. People infected with COVID-19 or the flu may not realize they are sick for several days. They can unknowingly spread the disease to others before they even feel sick. Knowing the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu is critical to preventing the spread of these infections.

Common COVID-19 and Flu Symptoms

If a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to develop symptoms than if they had flu. Typically, a person develops flu symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection. With COVID-19, a person develops symptoms 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as 2 days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection. Common symptoms include:
• Fever
• Fatigue
• Cough
• Sore throat
• Achiness or Muscle pain

COVID-19 and Flu Symptoms
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Flu Symptoms

The flu is different from a cold and symptoms can include:
• Fever*
• Cough
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
• Headaches
• Fatigue (tiredness)
• Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults).
*Note: not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

COVID-19 Symptoms

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include:
• Fever or chills
• Cough
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Fatigue
• Muscle or body aches
• Headache
• New loss of taste or smell
• Sore throat
• Congestion or runny nose
• Nausea or vomiting
• Diarrhea

In some cases, neurologic symptoms have been reported, including loss of taste and smell, delirium, dizziness, confusion, numbness in hands and feet, seizures, muscle weakness, and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
• Trouble breathing
• Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
• New confusion
• Inability to wake or stay awake
• Bluish lips or face

Approximately 20 percent of COVID-19 patients have moderate to severe symptoms, and less than half a percent are hospitalized. The most common symptom in moderate cases is difficulty breathing. In more severe cases, patients have experienced strokes, heart attacks, and death.


How Does COVID-19 and Flu Spread?

Both COVID-19 and flu can spread from person-to-person, who are within 6 feet from each other. They spread mainly by droplets made when people with COVID-19 or flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

With COVID-19, many people seem to be contagious before they have symptoms; with the flu, people become contagious three to four days after symptoms begin. Wearing a mask can help protect you and others.

It may be possible that a person can get infected by shaking hands or by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or eyes.

While COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread in similar ways, COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreading events than flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people and result in continuous spreading among people as time progresses.

For additional information about COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus COVID-19 Updates page.


Should You Get a Flu Shot This Season?

Getting a flu shot is especially important this year for several reasons. First, the flu kills thousands of people each year. Second, you risk contracting COVID-19 in the hospital if you are admitted for severe flu symptoms. Finally, contracting the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously may result in more severe illness and may lower your defenses in combatting the coronavirus.

The Florida Department of Health urges Floridians to contact their health care provider or pharmacy to get vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible. Reducing illness and hospitalization from the flu helps keep everyone safer. Please wear a mask and follow the social distancing rules.


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