Flu Symptoms vs. COVID-19 Symptoms
Because both influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses, they share a lot of similar symptoms. However, both of these contagious diseases are caused by a different virus. COVID-19 results when a person is infected with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, whereas the flu is caused by various influenza viruses. As a result, there are a few noticeable differences in flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms.
First, let’s look at the similarities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the common symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19 include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Runny nose/congestion
The CDC notes that the primary difference between flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms is the degree of severity. Most people with COVID-19 tend to experience more serious illness. If you have COVID-19, it may feel like you are experiencing the worst flu of your life.
Additionally, unique signs of COVID-19 not seen with the flu include:
- Change in or loss of taste
- Change in or loss of smell
If you are experiencing changes in your ability to smell or taste and you have additional symptoms, you could have COVID-19. However, not everyone who contracts the virus will experience all symptoms. It can be difficult to determine whether you have COVID-19 or the flu, and you may need to schedule a COVID-19 test to confirm the diagnosis.
How Long Does It Take for Symptoms to Appear?
Another similarity between COVID-19 and the flu is that the symptoms of both do not appear right away after a person is infected. In fact, it typically takes several days for an individual to begin exhibiting symptoms. However, the length of time between exposure/infection and symptoms differs slightly from the flu to COVID-19.
Symptoms might take the following number of days to appear:
- More than one day: both the flu and COVID-19
- One to four days: flu
- Two to five days: COVID-19
- Up to 14 days: COVID-19
Generally speaking, flu symptoms tend to appear sooner after infection than symptoms of COVID-19; however, you might begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms within two days of being exposed/infected. Notably, symptoms of COVID-19 may not appear for as many as 14 days (two weeks) after a person has been infected. This is why the CDC recommends that you self-quarantine for a 14-day period after knowingly being exposed to the virus.
How Long Is a Person Contagious?
Both the flu and COVID-19 are highly contagious, meaning they are easily spread from person to person. Additionally, both illnesses are primarily spread the same way—through respiratory droplets emitted when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings. When people are in close contact with an infected individual, they can inhale these respiratory droplets into their noses, mouths, lungs, and airways.
A person could also potentially become infected through physical contact with another person or an infected surface; for example, if a person shakes the hand of an infected individual and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, they could contract the illness.
There are slight differences in the length of time in which a person is contagious if they have the flu or if they have COVID-19:
- People who have the flu or COVID-19 can both be contagious for a period of at least one day prior to experiencing any symptoms
- Many people who have the flu are contagious for one day before showing symptoms and for the first three to four days after symptoms appear
- Someone with the flu could potentially be contagious for up to seven days; individuals with weakened immune systems and infants could be contagious for even longer
- Individuals with COVID-19 could be contagious for a period of at least two days before showing any symptoms
- Those with COVID-19 could remain contagious and potentially spread the virus for at least 10 days after first experiencing symptoms
- Individuals who are asymptomatic, meaning they do not exhibit symptoms but have the virus, could remain contagious for at least 10 days after a positive COVID-19 test
Emergency Flu & COVID-19 Symptoms
In severe cases, both the flu and COVID-19 can be life-threatening. It is critical that you know and look out for emergency symptoms that indicate a need for immediate medical attention.
Whether you or someone you love has the flu or COVID-19 (or if you are unsure), go immediately to the ER if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Bluish-colored lips/face
- Inability to stay awake
- Inability to wake up
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Severe/persistent vomiting
- Swelling of the mouth/throat
Additionally, if you experience flu-like symptoms that appear to go away but then come back with either a fever or worsened cough, you should seek prompt medical attention. For more information on emergency COVID-19 symptoms, visit the CDC’s website.
If you believe you or someone close to you needs emergency care, call 911.
Schedule a COVID-19 Test at ER of Texas
If you are experiencing symptoms but are not sure whether you have the flu or COVID-19, or if you believe you may have been exposed to COVID-19 but have not yet shown any symptoms, contact ER of Texas. We offer comprehensive COVID-19 testing in our safe, clean, state-of-the-art emergency service facilities located in Little Elm and Highland Village.