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    COVID-19 and the Flu: This or that?

    March 17, 2023

    COVID-19 or the flu? What's the difference? You might be asking yourself this question in order to know how to take care of your health if you're not feeling well. It can be confusing distinguishing the two, especially since both COVID-19 and the flu can cause respiratory issues and share other similar symptoms.

    Here, we explore the key differences between COVID-19 and the flu so that you can choose the best course of treatment for yourself or a loved one. 

    COVID-19 and Flu: Similarities

    • Both COVID-19 and the flu are viral infections. 
    • Both infections are caused by a virus that is transmitted from person to person. 
    • You can contract both the flu or COVID-19 by touching objects that have the virus on them and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
    • Both viruses spread easily from person to person, mostly when someone coughs or sneezes. 
    • Both viruses can cause respiratory symptoms such as: coughing, sneezing, headache and congestion.
    • Other similar symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu include:
    • Fever
    • Fatigue
    • Body aches
    • Sore throat
    • Shortness of breath
    Takeaway: It can be difficult to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu. Testing is the best way to determine which illness you or a loved one has. 

    COVID-19 and Flu: Differences

    When it comes to the flu and COVID-19, there are some important differences that you should be aware of. The main differences between the flu and COVID-19 include the following:

    • The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.
    • COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu, up to ten times as easily. 
    • COVID-19 is a much newer virus than the flu, whereas flu pandemics have been taking place for millennia.
    • Otherwise, COVID-19 and the flu present very similarly in humans, meaning you cannot tell the difference between the two based on symptoms alone.

    The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive an annual influenza vaccination. If you are at high risk for complications from influenza, including children younger than 2 years of age; pregnant women; people 50 years of age and older; people with certain underlying medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease or neurologic disorders; or people who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities (LTCFs), please talk to your doctor about whether this vaccine is right for you.

    As for the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends that everyone in the following categories receive one updated (bivalent) booster dose:

    • Everyone aged 5 years and older if it has been at least 2 months since your last dose.
    • Children aged 6 months - 4 years who completed the Moderna primary series and if it has been at least 2 months since their last dose.

    Of course, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet it’s never too late to get your first dose–it’s the best way to protect against serious illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. If you’re in a high-risk category such as being 50+ years old, you smoke, are overweight, or have chronic conditions like diabetes and even depression, you may be at higher risk. 

    Takeaway: It's important to determine whether someone is sick with the flu or with COVID-19 because they require different treatment. If you’re sick and not sure how best to proceed, call your doctor or other trusted health care provider. 


    1. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm#:~:text=Influenza%20(flu)%20and%20COVID%2D19%20are%20both%20contagious%20respiratory,flu%20virus%20(influenza%20viruses)
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