COVID vs. Flu: What are the Similarities and Differences?

As the winter season arrives, Americans are potentially dealing with not one but two contagious viruses, COVID-19 and the flu. While the flu is nothing new for healthcare professionals, having that virus go around at the same time as the new coronavirus which can mimic flu symptoms is. By learning more about COVID and the flu as well as their similarities and differences, individuals can be educated on ways to better navigate the months ahead.


Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a contagious virus that can currently spread year-round. The virus can affect people of all ages, and individuals who contract the virus can experience no, some, or a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell and/or taste
  • Nausea or upset stomach

These symptoms can gradually get worse over time and may in some instances require hospitalization. Individuals who think they may have contracted coronavirus should be tested immediately to prevent the spread and follow up with a doctor as needed.

In recent weeks, vaccines have become available and should be distributed within the coming year. In the meantime, most health professionals recommend wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth when appropriate, good handwashing practices and social distancing.


The flu is an influenza virus that commonly affects Americans in the winter and spring months. There are two types of influenza, including Type A and Type B, and each can affect individuals differently based on a number of different factors.

The virus is considered contagious and can manifest itself in the following symptoms:

  • Aches
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach

Each year, a flu vaccine is available for those who wish to receive it as an added measure of protection.  Because this virus can be contracted by touching commonly used but contaminated surfaces, practicing good handwashing is considered a helpful prevention measure.

Similarities Between COVID vs. Flu

While COVID-19 and the flu are different viruses, there are some important similarities between them including:

Good hygiene’s role in prevention:
For both COVID-19 and the flu, health experts say that good hygiene such as hand washing can be critical in helping protect yourself against these viruses. While mass mask wearing is more specific to protecting against the spread of coronavirus, some health professionals think it may also help protect against large scale spread of the flu.

Medical professionals say that both viruses can spread between individuals, especially those who have close contact with one another. Both can be spread through everyday actions such as talking, coughing, or sneezing via respiratory droplets. Airborne droplets containing the virus can spread to others, especially if they breathe them in. Other methods of virus transmission include touching a virus contaminated surface and then touching areas on the face such as the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few symptoms coronavirus and the flu have in common, which can create confusion. These are not limited to but can include aches, coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, fever, headache, runny nose or congestion, sore throat, and stomach upset. Regardless of which virus an individual contracts, however, it may have very different effects from one person to the next.

Potential for complications:
Because every person is unique, the potential for complications varies. Particularly for those who have underlying conditions, contracting coronavirus or the flu can compromise their health. If you suspect you have COVID-19 or the flu and have underlying conditions, it is a good idea to check in with a medical professional.

Differences Between COVID vs. Flu

Despite the number of similarities between the COVID and flu viruses, there are also several distinct differences worth noting:

Virus makeup:
COVID-19 is not the same virus as the flu. The flu is typically caused by influenza A or B viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus referred to as SARS-CoV-2.

Loss of taste and smell:
Medical professionals currently believe the loss of taste and smell to be more closely associated with contraction of coronavirus than the flu.

Exposure and symptom timeline:
Symptoms of the flu can pop up as early as one to four days after exposure to the virus. For COVID-19, symptoms of the virus can take as long as two to fourteen days after exposure to manifest themselves.

While both coronavirus and the flu are viruses, medical professionals believe COVID-19 to be more contagious than the flu.

Long lasting effects:
On average, contracting COVID-19 may result in higher odds of experiencing injury to the lungs than contracting the flu.

There are antiviral medications that can be prescribed to lessen the effects or shorten the duration of the flu. However, antiviral medications and various other treatment options are still under review to see which can most effectively treat coronavirus.

Mortality rate:
While health professionals are still gathering data on COVID-19, it appears as though there have been more coronavirus related deaths in 2020 than flu-related deaths in the previous year.

Why Handwashing Is Preferred Over Hand Sanitizer

For years the gold standard for keeping germs at bay has been proper handwashing. With the arrival of hand sanitizer, many people consider the two practices interchangeable when in fact they are not.

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs on a person’s hands, they may not eliminate all the germs present. This can be for a number of reasons including poor application or applying it to dirty or greasy hands.

Washing the hands thoroughly with soap and water for approximately twenty seconds or more can be effective in removing germs and chemicals when performed correctly. It is important to wash the entire surface area of hands including the palms, back of the hands, between fingers and even under fingernails.

When soap and water are available, most healthcare professionals prefer handwashing to the use of hand sanitizer. However, in the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer can be helpful in reducing potentially harmful germs.

If you are not feeling well and are concerned you may be experiencing COVID or the flu, please reach out to Family First Urgent Care today to learn more.