What's the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19?
The flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms, but they are caused by two different viruses. Both are serious enough that they can result in severe illness and hospitalization, but they require different methods of both treatment and prevention.
Because the symptoms of the two viruses are so similar, it can be hard to differentiate between them based on symptoms alone. A test may be required to confirm your diagnosis.
Frequently Asked Questions
While the flu and COVID-19 share many symptoms, there are some key differences in symptoms as well.
Please see the CDC website for further information on flu vs. COVID-19 symptoms.
The majority of people infected with flu or COVID-19 have fairly mild illness that does not require medical care. However, treatment differs in cases of severe illness.
There is currently no known proven treatment for COVID-19. In cases of severe illness, certain COVID symptoms (such as difficulty breathing) can be treated directly, and patients can get supportive care (such as oxygen and IV fluids).
Severe flu illness – or flu symptoms in those part of a high-risk group – can be treated with prescription antiviral medication. Please contact your doctor as soon as you begin experiencing symptoms to determine the proper course of treatment for your illness.
Yes, you can have the flu – or other respiratory illnesses – and COVID at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this is. Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with flu or COVID-19. If you receive a flu test you will also be tested for COVID-19 at the same time.
Both the flu and COVID can result in serious illness and hospitalization. Because COVID-19 is a relatively new virus, the CDC says that it is too early to determine whether it is more deadly than the seasonal flu.
Some of those at increased risk for serious flu and COVID-19 complications, for whom extra precaution is needed, include:
- Adults 65 and older
- People of any age with certain chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or heart disease
- People with weakened immune systems
- People with a BMI of 40 or higher (or, in the case of COVID-19 specifically, 30 or higher)
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
Learn more about the risk factors for flu and COVID-19.
No – as of October 2020, there is no approved vaccine for COVID-19, and the flu shot does not provide protection against any virus other than the flu. However, it is important that you get your flu shot this year to help reduce your risk of flu-related illness – both to keep you and your community safe, as well as to reduce potential burden on our health care system.
No, there is no evidence that the flu shot will increase your risk of getting COVID-19.
Getting a flu shot is an important way to protect your health, and your family’s health, during flu season, and is considered an essential activity. Please follow CDC guidelines (including wearing a mask) to help protect you against COVID-19 while you are getting your flu shot.