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How can I tell the difference between flu and COVID-19?

How can I tell the difference between flu and COVID-19?

It is impossible to say without a test. Influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, you may need to get tested to find out what makes you unhappy.

Body aches, sore throats, fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and headache are symptoms shared by both.

One difference? People with the flu usually feel most sick in the first week of illness. With COVID-19, people may feel worst in the second or third week and may be sick for a longer period of time.

Another difference: COVID-1

9 is more likely than the flu to cause loss of taste or smell. But not everyone experiences this symptom, so it is not a reliable way to distinguish viruses.

This leaves tests that will become more important as flu season increases this fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Doctors will need to know the test results to determine the best treatment.

It is also possible to become infected with both viruses at the same time, said Dr. Daniel Solomon, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Whether you will be tested for one or both viruses may depend on how accessible the tests are and which viruses are circulating where you live, he said.

“We don’t see community transmission of the flu at the moment, so widespread flu tests are not yet recommended,” Solomon said.

Both influenza and coronavirus are spread by droplets from the nose and mouth. Both can spread before people realize they are sick. Influenza has a shorter incubation period – which means it can take one to four days after infection to feel bad – compared to the coronavirus, which can take two to 14 days from infection to symptoms.

On average, COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu. But many people with COVID-19 do not spread the virus to anyone, while several people spread it to many others. These “overdose events” are more common with COVID-19 than with the flu, Solomon said.

Influenza prevention begins with an annual flu, in line with the circulating strains of influenza virus. Health officials would like to see a record number of people receive flu shots this year so that hospitals are not overwhelmed by two epidemics at once.

There is still no vaccine for COVID-19, although several candidates are in the final stages of testing.

Precautions against COVID-19 – masks, social distancing, hand washing – also slow the spread of the flu, so health officials hope that continued vigilance could reduce the severity of this year’s flu season.


AP answers your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Send them to: FactCheck@AP.org. Read more here:

Can I get coronavirus twice?

What are the different types of coronavirus tests?

Is coronavirus easily spread among children?

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