Is it flu or is it COVID-19?

in Health & Beauty

Flu and COVID-19 are both transmittable respiratory illnesses with very similar symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. 

Flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses; there are two main types – Types A and Type B. These viruses are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year. Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, including death. It is important to note that flu is different from a cold; it usually comes on suddenly.

COVID-19 infection is caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. There is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it; research is still ongoing.

Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics and have varying degrees of signs/ symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe. It is possible to have flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 at the same time. Moreover, based on the similarities of symptoms, it will be difficult to tell the difference between infections; therefore, further testing is warranted to help confirm a diagnosis. 

It is not possible to be certain, but scientists believe that it is likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading this winter. In this context, for all those who are eligible, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever. 


Common symptoms for both Flu and Covid-19

  • 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
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Possibly vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children than adults)

In the case of Covid-19, added symptoms may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

How infection spreads

  • Both COVID-19 and flu can spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). 
  • Both are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the illness (COVID-19 or flu) cough, sneeze, or talk. 
  • A person can get infected by physical human contact (e.g. shaking hands) or by touching a surface / object that has virus on it and then touching their own mouth /nose /eyes.
  • Both flu and COVID-19 may be spread to others by people before they begin showing symptoms, with very mild symptoms or those who are asymptomatic.

COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu.

Onset of symptoms

Flu: Generally 1-4 days after becoming infected
Covid-19: Time range varies and may take longer than for flu, but is generally around 5 days after becoming infected. BUT  Symptoms can also appear as early as 2 days after infection and up to 14 days after infection.

How long someone can spread the virus

Flu: Most people with flu are contagious for about 1 day before they show symptoms. Older children and adults with flu appear to be most contagious during the initial 3-4 days of their illness but many remain contagious for about 7 days. Infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for even longer.
Covid-19: If a person has COVID-19, they may be contagious for a longer period of time than if they had flu. Still under investigation. It’s possible for people to spread the virus for about 2 days before experiencing signs or symptoms and remain contagious for at least 10 days after signs or symptoms first appeared. If someone is asymptomatic or their symptoms go away, it’s possible to remain contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19.

Approved treatments in severe cases

Flu: People who are hospitalized with flu or at high-risk of flu complications with flu symptoms are recommended to be treated with prescribed antiviral drugs
Covid-19: There are currently no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent or treat COVID-19. Studies are in progress…


Flu: There are several licensed flu vaccines produced annually to protect against the 3 or 4 flu viruses that are anticipated to circulate each year.
Covid-19: Currently there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Researchers are working toward expediting the development of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.


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

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (i.e. fluid in lungs)
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury (e.g. heart attacks and stroke)
  • 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 already been infected with flu or COVID-19)

Most people who get flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some may develop complications 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)

For further information on Covid-19 / Flu visit:

The regular and continued practice of hand and respiratory etiquette is key to preventing infection from spreading; as is the need for physical distancing and use of face coverings as per recommended Public Health Guidance.

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