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What Is the Difference Between Flu and COVID-19?

What Is the Difference Between Flu and COVID-19?

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise throughout the world, so too have questions about the deadly pathogen. Foremost among these questions is “What is the difference between flu and COVID-19?” On the surface they may show similar symptoms, but upon closer inspection, each actually exhibits certain key differences.

What Is the Difference Between Flu and COVID-19?

Perhaps the most basic distinction of these two respiratory conditions is that coronavirus disease, or COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, while the flu is caused by the influenza virus.

Although both coronavirus and influenza are viruses, they exhibit different patterns. First, the symptoms as well as the severity of such symptoms. And how they can progress to other complications, especially for those who are at risk, such as the elderly, young children, and the immunocompromised.

These symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • fatigue
  • respiratory issues

COVID-19 patients experience respiratory symptoms more commonly than influenza patients. And although both conditions can cause pneumonia, COVID-19 is known to be much deadlier. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between flu and COVID-19.


  • The incubation period for COVID-19 can last from 5 to 14 days. In rare cases, it can last up to 21 days.
  • Within this time, those with COVID-19 could be asymptomatic (or show no symptoms), and so they could be an unwitting carrier of the condition.
  • Another noticeable trait of this disease is that it is a virus. It doesn’t replicate by itself, but it infects other cells and gives it instructions to create more of its kind, causing the cell itself to slowly die out and spread more copies of the virus across the body.

Influenza (Flu)

Influenza, on the other hand, is also a type of virus that attacks the respiratory system. This virus usually can arise suddenly with noticeable symptoms.

  • It has a shorter incubation time than COVID-19. And it spreads slowly, despite being a common disease.
  • The flu could also lead to sinus and ear infection, in more moderate cases
  • In severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia.
  • Since the flu has been around for a long time, there are already vaccines and treatments available.

Key Prevention Tips

While the difference between flu and COVID-19 is significant, prevention for both is similar. Both conditions spread through person-to-person contact, such as sneezing, coughing, or other forms of physical or intimate contact. Because of this, during this pandemic, many countries exercise “social distancing,” or staying at least six feet away from other people. They also advise people to stay at home if they do not have anything important to do.

Though social distancing is a fairly new term, it bears similarities with age-old measures to keep yourself from catching the flu, such as:

  • Keeping away from anyone who is sick
  • Avoiding crowds or large gatherings
  • Practicing thorough hand hygiene
  • Practicing respiratory hygiene (or covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing)
  • Cleaning your surroundings
  • Building up your immune system with exercise, hydration, and healthy, balanced diet

Social distancing and community quarantine measures help control the number of cases that are steadily on the rise. As the influx of cases is threatening to burden the country’s medical infrastructure.

However, COVID-19 has been traced to a new strain of coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2. As of this writing, several clinical trials are underway across the world.

Usually, vaccinations allow the immune system of the person to train and learn about the virus, therefore making it stronger in the process.

Key Takeaways

What is the difference between flu and COVID-19? It does seem that, on the surface, these two viruses have much in common with each other. Both are viral infections that invade hosts, then infect and “trick” cells into producing more of their kind.

For COVID-19, this often results in the immune system kicking into overdrive, or what is known as a “cytokine storm.”

Both viruses exhibit symptoms that mostly attack the respiratory system. And can trigger pre-existing conditions cases to flare, such as asthma and pneumonia.

And both viruses can be fatal.

As the world is learning more about COVID-19 each day, there is still much uncertainty. But one thing’s for sure: discoveries are waiting to be made.

And with medical advancements coupled with diligent research, COVID-19 could, hopefully, add one more similarity to the flu: a vaccine available to all.

Learn more about coronavirus here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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Viruses: Structure, Function, and Uses,, Accessed September 16, 2021

Flu Symptoms & Complications,, Accessed September 16, 2021

How does the new coronavirus compare with the flu?, Accessed September 16, 2021

When and How to Wash Your Hands,, Accessed September 16, 2021

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Written by Karla Pascua Updated 7 days ago
Medically reviewed by January Velasco, M.D.