Flu or COVID-19?

Determining Difference Not So Simple  

VALDOSTA – Flu cases across the region are beginning to rise. As we approach peak flu season and with COVID-19 cases still being diagnosed each day across our area, many people want to know “How will I know if I have the flu versus COVID?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses that are highly contagious. Both illnesses are spread mainly by droplets made when a person who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. Both illnesses can also present with very similar symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe.

The CDC lists symptoms for both COVID-19 and the flu as:  

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.

Serious cases of both illnesses can result in complications including pneumonia, secondary infections and respiratory failure.

A complication from COVID-19 that is not commonly reported from flu is termed “long COVID.” The CDC describes long COVID as a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 or can appear weeks after infection. Long COVID can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if their illness was mild, or if they had no symptoms.

The incubation period, or period between infection and symptom onset, also varies between the viruses. According to the CDC, “If a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to experience symptoms than if they had flu. Typically, a person with the flu experiences symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection versus a person with COVID-19 may experience symptoms about 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after infection.”  

Another difference according to the CDC is that COVID-19 appears to generally be considered more contagious. “COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu. However, as more people become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 should slow down.”

With symptoms and spread for both illnesses being so similar, the easiest way to determine which you have is to be tested, according to the CDC. Testing allows doctors to confirm a diagnosis and know which treatment, if any, will help resolve your symptoms.

Both COVID-19 and flu have the risk of becoming severe, especially for high-risk and immune compromised individuals. This makes prevention extremely important.

The number one way to slow or prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the flu is vaccination. Vaccines are available for both the flu and COVID-19. You will need both vaccinations to protect yourself from both viruses, flu vaccines do not protect against COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines do not protect against flu.

COVID-19 and flu vaccines are available at all South Health District health departments located in Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Tift and Turner Counties.

Other steps to help protect yourself from and slow the spread of COVID-19 and flu include:

  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Wash your hands regularly with warm soapy water.
  • Maintain distance from others when possible.

Call your local health department today to schedule your COVID-19 and flu vaccination appointments.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccination and testing through your local health department visit www.southhealthdistrict.com/covid19.

For more information on the influenza and how flu and COVID-19 differ visit the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm.