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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Coronavirus vs. the Flu: What’s the Difference?

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: Lee Health

As concern spreads about the coronavirus (COVID-19), many people are searching for information about symptoms and how they may or may not differ from the common cold or the flu.

With Florida snowbirds back in full force and seasonal flu activity at an elevated level for the past 15 weeks, we want to provide a quick rundown:

What are symptoms of Coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control reports that the main symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms – which may also include runny nose, cough, and sore throat -- may appear anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure.

(JULY UPDATE: The CDC has updated its list of symptoms as more is learned about the virus. The virus can cause symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and sore throat. More symptoms may also be present such as chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, a new loss of taste or smell, nausea, congestion/stuffy nose and diarrhea.)

What are symptoms of influenza?

The flu usually involves a fever as well as other symptoms including chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue, the CDC reports.

So what is the difference?

Unfortunately, the symptoms for respiratory viruses are frequently the same, although not everyone with the flu will get a fever.

Health officials stress that you should call your healthcare provider with any concerns and remember that your risk of coronavirus exposure drops considerably unless you have traveled to an area with a confirmed outbreak or interacted with someone who has been officially diagnosed.

Basically, if you have symptoms like those describe above, chances are you have a cold or the flu. But the CDC states that your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department to determine if you need COVID-19 testing.

The main differences between flu and COVID-19 appear to be in other details such as causes, transmission, medications, and numbers.

For instance, we know that flu is spread by an infected person for several days before symptoms appear, but scientists don’t know for sure how quickly COVID-19 can spread. Likely the easiest time for it to spread is when people have the most symptoms. COVID-19 is primarily spread through tiny respiratory droplets passed from person-to-person.

It’s possible that the virus could be spread by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a contaminated surface as well.

We know COVID-19 is caused by one virus, whereas flu can have different strains. And there is a dedicated vaccine for flu while one for COVID-19 is in the works.

On sheer numbers alone, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 has caused approximately 3,085 deaths around the world and just six in the United States.

Influenza has already led to at least 291,000 deaths worldwide (the number could be as high as 646,000) and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. this year.

(NOTE: These numbers are current as of March 4. Please check the CDC website for updates.)

So what should you do?

Experts stress that you should remain calm. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 80 percent of people with COVID-19 have a mild form of the illness with cold- or flu-like symptoms.

People over 60 who have compromised immune systems face a higher risk. The WHO states that potential fatality rates are still far lower (2 to 4 out of 100) than something like SARS, where nearly 10 in 100 died.

In the meantime, stay prepared:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze.
  • Stay home when you are sick

Plan of action and Lee TeleHealth

  1. Lee Health has a plan in place to care for patients with serious infectious diseases, and all clinical staff are trained in standard infection control procedures. Go to our official press release page, which also includes more resources for you and your family.
  1. We also provide Lee TeleHealth, an on-demand medical service from the comfort of your own home.
  1. While a diagnosis of COVID-19 at this point cannot be confirmed via virtual/remote care, care teams are trained to screen patients, assign risk, answer questions, and recommend the next steps a patient should take. Clinicians will walk patients through the proper procedures if COVID-19 is suspected.
  1. TeleHealth capability greatly minimizes the demands on in-person primary care, urgent care, an emergency department visit, etc., and reduces unnecessary risk to patients and care teams alike for further exposure.
  1. Currently, Lee TeleHealth is being offered free of charge.

Dr. Stephanie Stovall, an expert with our Infectious Disease department, contributed to this report.