COVID-19 has been compared to influenza as the outbreak progresses. They both cause respiratory diseases, but they spread in significantly different ways. A large impact will be felt on the public health measures taken to combat each virus.

The influenza virus is what exactly is?

Influenza, a highly contagious common illness, is caused by the influenza virus. Common symptoms include fever, headaches, body aches, runny noses, sore throats, coughs, and fatigue. The average healthy person recovers from the flu within a week. Still, those with weakened immune systems, chronic medical conditions, and children are more likely to suffer serious complications, such as pneumonia, and even die. The influenza virus A and the influenza virus B infect humans. Many strains of each can frequently mutate, so people get sick with the flu year after year-and flu shots do not protect against more than one season of the virus. While the flu can be contracted at any time of the year, flu season is from December to March in the United States.

How should Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 be distinguished?

Symptoms of influenza A and COVID-19 can range from none (asymptomatic) to severe. The following symptoms of influenza A and COVID-19 are similar:

  • Feeling feverish or chilled
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Exhaustion
  • Throat discomfort
  • Nasal congestion
  • Aches and pains in the body
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea may occur in some people, but these symptoms are more likely to occur in children

Mild to severe illness can be caused by the flu virus, including the symptoms described above.

COVID-19 Virus
It causes more severe illnesses in some people. Changes in or loss of taste or smell are other symptoms of COVID-19 that differ from the flu.

After exposure and infection, how soon do symptoms appear?

One or more days can pass between becoming infected with COVID-19 and experiencing symptoms.

The symptoms of COVID-19 may appear later than if a person was sick with the flu.
The flu usually shows symptoms between one and four days after infection.

It is typical for symptoms to appear five days after the infection, but they can appear earlier or later, and the time range can vary.

Is the virus contagious for a long time?

Viruses such as COVID-19 and flu can be spread for at least one day before symptoms appear.

It may take a person with COVID-19 longer to become contagious than someone with influenza.

It usually takes a day for flu patients to develop symptoms. Children and adults over the age of 5 and adults over the age of 65 seem to be the most contagious during the first three to four days of their illness, although some remain contagious for seven days after becoming ill. Contagious illnesses can last more than a week in an infant or a person with a compromised immune system.

COVID-19 can be spread for an unknown amount of time. The virus can spread for up to two days before showing symptoms, and it can remain contagious for at least ten days after showing symptoms. After testing positive for COVID-19, a person can be contagious for at least ten days if they are asymptomatic or if their symptoms resolve.

In what ways does it spread?

People in close contact with each other (within about 6 feet) are susceptible to the spread of COVID-19 and flu. The infection is spread primarily through droplets produced when ill people cough, sneeze or speak. As a result, people nearby may breathe these droplets into their lungs or inhale them into their mouths. It is possible to contract a virus by touching a surface or object that contains a virus and then touching your mouth, nose, or even your eyes. Asymptomatic, very mildly ill, or not ill (asymptomatic) individuals can spread the flu virus and COVID-19 virus to others.

COVID-19 spreads similarly to flu viruses, but it is more contagious among some populations and older adults. In addition, COVID-19 has spread more rapidly than flu. In other words, it is easy and quick for the virus that causes COVID-19 to spread to large numbers of people, ultimately resulting in ongoing transmission over time.

COVID-19 and influenza viruses: what are the medical treatments?

COVID-19 does not have licensed vaccines or therapeutics, although several therapeutics are undergoing clinical trials in China, and more than 20 vaccines are being developed.

For influenza, however, antivirals are available. It is strongly recommended to get vaccinated every year even though the influenza vaccine is ineffective against COVID-19.

At-Risk Individuals

Both COVID-19 and flu illnesses can have serious consequences. The most vulnerable are older adults and those with certain medical conditions.

Pregnant women are highly vulnerable to the same.

Complications from influenza are more likely to occur in healthy children than with COVID-19.
The flu and COVID-19 are hazardous for children and infants with underlying health conditions.

Symptoms are more likely to develop in young children.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but severe complication of COVID-19, is more likely to occur in children infected with the virus.

COVID-19 and flu have similar complications, such as:

  • Infection with pneumonia.
  • Failure of the respiratory system.
  • Fluid in the lungs (ARDS).
  • Stroke and heart attack are examples of cardiac injury sepsis.
  • Multiple organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock).
  • Dysfunction of the lungs, heart, nervous system, or diabetes.
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues (i.e., infections after flu or COVID-19 infection).

Emergency Medical Attention When to Seek It

For COVID-19, be on the lookout for emergency warning signs. These signs should be treated immediately.

  • Breathing problems.
  • An uncomfortable feeling in the chest.
  • Uncertainty.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Depending on skin tone, pale, gray, or blue skin, lips, or nails

As the COVID-19 outbreak progresses, comparisons to influenza have been made. Both cause respiratory disease, but there are significant differences in how the two viruses spread. This has significant implications for the public health measures that can be put in place to combat each virus.

What exactly is influenza?

The influenza virus causes a highly contagious common illness known as the flu. Fever, headache, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fatigue are all common symptoms. While most healthy people recover from the flu in about a week, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions are more likely to develop serious complications, such as pneumonia and even death. Humans are afflicted by two types of influenza viruses: A and B. Each type has many strains that mutate frequently, which is why people get sick with the flu year after year—and why flu shots only protect against one flu season. You can get the flu at any time of year, but flu season in the United States is from December to March.

What is the distinction between Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19?

COVID-19 and flu can both have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from none (asymptomatic) to severe. COVID-19 and flu share the following symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than in adults.

Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, including the above-mentioned common signs and symptoms.

In some people, COVID-19 appears to cause more serious illnesses. Other COVID-19 symptoms that differ from the flu include changes in or loss of taste or smell.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear after exposure and infection?

Between becoming infected with COVID-19 and experiencing illness symptoms, a person can be infected for one or more days.

If a person has COVID-19, symptoms may appear later than if they had the flu.
Symptoms of the flu usually appear between 1 and 4 days after infection.

Symptoms typically appear 5 days after infection, but they can appear as early as 2 days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection, and the time range can vary.

How long can someone spread the virus?

In both COVID-19 and flu, the virus can be spread for at least one day before symptoms appear.

If a person has COVID-19, they may be contagious for longer than if they have the flu.

Most flu patients are contagious for about a day before they develop symptoms. The flu appears to be most contagious in older children and adults during the first 3-4 days of their illness, but many remain contagious for up to 7 days. Infants and people with compromised immune systems can be contagious for even longer periods of time.

It is still unknown how long someone can spread the virus that causes COVID-19. People can spread the virus for about 2 days before showing signs or symptoms, and they can remain contagious for at least 10 days after showing signs or symptoms. If a person is asymptomatic or their symptoms resolve, they can be contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19.

How Does It Spread?

Both COVID-19 and flu can spread from person to person, between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet). Both are spread primarily through droplets produced when people suffering from the illness (COVID-19 or flu) cough, sneeze, or speak. These droplets may land in the mouths or noses of nearby people or be inhaled into the lungs. It is possible that a person can become infected through physical human contact (e.g., shaking hands) or by touching a virus-infected surface or object and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. Both the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to others by people who are asymptomatic, have very mild symptoms, or have never developed symptoms (asymptomatic).

While COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread similarly, COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu. Furthermore, COVID-19 has been found to have more superspreading events than flu. This means that the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a large number of people, resulting in ongoing spread among people as time passes.

What are the medical treatments for COVID-19 and influenza viruses?

There are currently 10 vaccines that have been granted WHO-EUL status for COVID-19. But, vaccination is still yet very low in many countries especially in the most vulnerable communities.

Antivirals and vaccines for influenza are easily accessible and available. While the influenza vaccine is ineffective against the COVID-19 virus, it is strongly advised to get vaccinated every year to avoid influenza infection.

Individuals at High Risk of Severe Illness

COVID-19 and flu illnesses can both cause severe illness and complications. Older adults and people with certain underlying medical conditions are the most vulnerable.
Pregnant women

When compared to COVID-19, the risk of complications for healthy children is higher with flu.
Infants and children with underlying medical conditions, on the other hand, are more vulnerable to both flu and COVID-19.

Young children are at a higher risk of developing severe flu symptoms.

School-aged children infected with COVID-19 are more likely to develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but severe COVID-19 complication.

Complications: Similarities: Both COVID-19 and flu can cause complications such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) (i.e. fluid in lungs)
  • Cardiac injury Sepsis (e.g. heart attacks and stroke)
  • Failure of multiple organs (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Chronic medical conditions deterioration (involving the lungs, heart, nervous system or diabetes)
  • Secondary bacterial infections Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues (i.e. infections that occur in people who have already been infected with flu or COVID-19)


The majority of people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some will develop complications, some of which are listed above.

Additional complications associated with COVID-19 can include:
● Blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs or brain
● Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C)

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