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Fever is a common symptom of COVID-19 and the flu. Because these conditions overlap in many ways, it may be difficult to know with certainty which one you are suffering from. The only real way to tell the difference may be through confirming a diagnosis through testing.
How the Flu and COVID-19 Are Similar
Both caused by viruses
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CCD), both COVID-19 and the flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. The influenza virus causes the flu, and the coronavirus causes COVID-19, referred to as SARS-CoV-2.
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Both Have Common Symptoms
COVID-19 and the flu have some overlapping symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
The flu and COVID-19 can result in severe illness and complications for high-risk individuals, including older adults, those with underlying conditions, and pregnant women.
Both Spread the Same Way
The flu and COVID-19 are both spread primarily through respiratory droplets made when people sneeze, cough, or even talk. The small virus particles linger in the air, and another person can quickly become infected. People can also become infected by touching surfaces with these virus particles and then touching their faces. You may have the flu or COVID-19 for several days without realizing it and could spread it to others.
Both Are Treated the Same
Because they are both viruses, you can't treat COVID-19 and the flu with antibiotics. In both situations, the goal is to address the symptoms, including reducing fever. In some situations, people may require hospitalization or even need to go on a ventilator, particularly for individuals with severe COVID-19 cases.
Both Have Vaccines
There are vaccines available to protect against the flu and COVID-19. Annually, three to four vaccines are administered for the flu, and currently, there are two vaccines approved to prevent COVID-19.
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Rate of Transmission
While COVID-19 is still relatively new, the observation is that it is more contagious and spreads more easily than the flu. People are often infectious for longer without showing symptoms when they've been infected with COVID-19, or they could show no signs at all. COVID-19 can cause what is referred to as "super spreader" events, meaning the virus spreads easily and quickly to many people.
Each Affects Children Differently
The CDC reports that while children can contract COVID-19, the risk of severe complications is relatively low. Children who get sick with the flu, however, are at higher risk for becoming seriously ill.
Time It Takes for Symptoms to Appear
When someone has COVID-19, it may take longer for symptoms, like fever, to appear. In most cases, someone with COVID-19 develops symptoms about five days after becoming infected; however, they could show signs anywhere between two and 14 days. If someone has the flu, it typically takes about one to four days for symptoms to surface.
How You Can Fight off the Flu and COVID-19
Aside from getting both the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine (when it's your turn), you should also follow prevention measures, including wearing a mask, being vigilant about hand washing, and maintaining at least six feet of distance between you and others. Taking good care of yourself by eating healthy meals, exercising regularly, and getting adequate rest also will help strengthen your immune system.