Comparing Flu & COVID-19. Here’s What You Need To Know

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

There are many similarities, according to the CDC. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, thus testing is needed to confirm a diagnosis. Signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

How long do symptoms appear after exposure and infection?

The Flu typically takes around 1-4 days for symptoms to appear. COVID-19 symptoms most frequently develop around 5 days after exposure, though they can appear as early as 2 days or as late as 14 days after exposure.

How long someone can spread the virus?

Both the Flu and COVID-19 are caused by viruses, and the length of time a person can spread them is a little different. In some people, COVID-19 can continue to be contagious for a slightly longer period of time than the Flu.

How they are spread?

Both COVID-19 and Flu can spread from person-to-person. Both are spread mainly by droplets made when people with viral illness 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.

It may be possible that a person can get infected by physical human contact (e.g. shaking hands) or by touching a surface or object that has virus on it and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

Both of these viruses may be spread to others by people before they begin showing symptoms, with very mild symptoms or who never developed symptoms (asymptomatic).

While COVID-19 and Flu are thought to spread in similar ways, COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups. 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.

People at High-Risk for Severe Illness

Both COVID-19 and Flu can result in severe illness and complications especially the elderly, those with an underlying medical condition and pregnant women (primarily Flu for the latter example). School-aged children infected with COVID-19 are at higher risk of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare but severe complication of COVID-19. Children may also show eye symptoms as the only clue.


Both COVID-19 and Flu can result in complications, including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury
  • Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, nervous system or diabetes)
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues
  • Secondary bacterial infections (i.e. infections that occur in people who have recovered from recent Flu or COVID-19 infection

Approved Treatments

Prescriptions influenza antiviral drugs are FDA-approved to treat Flu.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed guidance on treatment of COVID-19, which will be regularly updated as new evidence on treatment options emerges.


There are new Flu vaccines every year, the efficacy of which varies from year to year depending upon the strains of influenza circulating. We do not yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, but as you likely know there are a number of vaccines on the verge of approval in the coming months, and numerous other vaccines being developed, some of which are exciting.

Read the CDC post in its entirely here

Click here to read our blog post about vaccinations from April 2020

Ms. Jenn Landers & Dr. Justin Groode | Patient Advocate Alliance LLC

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