It is impossible to tell without a test. Influenza and COVID-19 have such similar symptoms, you may need to be tested to know what makes you miserable.
Body aches, sore throat, fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and headache are symptoms shared by the two.
A difference? People with the flu typically feel sick in the first week of illness. With COVID-19, people may feel worst in the second or third week, and they may be sicker for an extended period of time.
Another difference: COVID-1
It leaves testing, which becomes more important as the flu season ramps up in the fall in the northern hemisphere. Doctors will need to know test results to determine the best treatment.
It is also possible to get infected with both viruses at the same time, said Dr. Daniel Solomon, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Whether you are tested for one or both viruses can depend on how available the tests are and what viruses are circulating where you live, he said.
“Right now we do not see the transmission of influenza in the community, so widespread testing of influenza is not yet recommended,” Solomon said.
Both influenza and coronavirus spread through droplets from the nose and mouth. Both can spread before people know they are sick. Influenza has a shorter incubation period – meaning that after infection it can take one to four days to become ill – compared to coronavirus, which can take two to 14 days from infection to symptoms.
On average, COVID-19 is more contagious than influenza. However, many people with COVID-19 do not spread the virus to anyone, while a few people spread it to many others. These “super-spreading events” are more common with COVID-19 than the flu, Solomon said.
Influenza prevention starts with an annual flu shot tailored to the flu virus strains circulating. Health officials would like to see a record number of people get flu shots this year so hospitals are not overwhelmed by two epidemics at once.
There is as yet no vaccine against COVID-19, although several candidates are in the final testing phases.
Precautions against COVID-19 – masks, social distances, hand washing – also slow down the spread of the flu, so health officials hope continued vigilance can reduce the severity of this year’s flu season.
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