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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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COVID-19 or the Flu: How Do You Know the Difference?

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: Lee Health

The holiday season is upon us, with all its magical wonders, good cheer, and . . . contagious diseases.

COVID-19 (coronavirus) and flu (seasonal influenza) are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2), and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two. Here’s what you need to know:

What are the similarities?

COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Both diseases are spread by air-borne respiratory droplets and contaminated surfaces.

The symptoms COVID-19 and flu have in common include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
  • Both can lead to pneumonia, a secondary infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs

* Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19 

COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people, according to the CDC. Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

If you’re infected with COVID-19, you’ll typically develop symptoms five days after infection. However, symptoms can appear as soon as two days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection.

Possible symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

* Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Note: Sneezing with a stuffy nose is not a typical COVID-19 symptom.

Important: People who are high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include older adults and people with certain medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes).

Recovery from COVID-19: Many people with mild symptoms of COVID-19 can recover at home with rest and fluids. But some people become seriously ill from COVID-19 and need to stay in the hospital for supportive treatment.

Currently, there is no vaccine available for the virus that causes COVID-19. But researchers are working to develop vaccines to prevent COVID-19.

What should I do if I have COVID-19?

If you have mild or moderate disease, stay home for 10 days after your first symptom unless you need medical care. If you must see another person during that time, you must wear a mask. You must always wear a mask around people.

Influenza

If you’re infected with the flu, symptoms typically develop one to four days after infection. People who have the flu often experience some or all the following symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in adults) 

* Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Important: People who are high risk of severe illness from the flu include older adults and people with certain medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes).

Recovery from the flu: Your doctor may prescribe oral antiviral medications within 24-48 hours of your infection. These medications can address symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu. If you haven’t already received your annual seasonal vaccine, a flu vaccine can prevent or reduce the duration of the flu.

What should I do if I have the flu?

If you have mild or moderate symptoms, you should stay home and avoid others until 24 hours after your fever is gone unless you need medical care.

If you develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or the flu or believe you may have been exposed, contact a Lee Physician Group healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss your situation.

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