COVID-19 and Flu: Similarities, Differences, and How to Protect Yourself

As the coronavirus and flu season collide, this upcoming fall and winter will be like none the world has ever seen. Here in the United States, it is important to know how to protect yourself from both of these viruses, which we can get at the same time. Read on to see how these viruses are similar, how they are different, and what those of us who have chronic or underlying conditions need to look out for this season.

How are COVID-19 and the flu similar?

Coronavirus and the flu have many similarities in how they are spread and the symptoms that they cause. Both viruses are spread when people are close to each other, mainly through droplets that form when people cough, sneeze, or talk. Both viruses can also be spread before an infected person starts to show symptoms. This is why masks are so effective at reducing spread.1

Coronavirus and flu can also be spread when an infected person’s droplets land on surfaces that another person touches, such as a doorknob or dining table. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds to reduce the risk of getting any of these droplets near or on your face. You might also want to hold off on shaking any hands for a while.2

As the season moves forward, it will be a common challenge to figure out whether common symptoms are from COVID-19 (the illness caused by coronavirus), flu, or the common cold. Both COVID-19 and the flu can result in mild or severe illness and may cause 1 or more of the symptoms below:1-4

Symptom Table

SymptomCOVID-19FluCommon cold
Chills, body achesYesYesRarely
Sudden symptomsNoYesNo
Loss of taste or smellYesNoNo
Runny noseYesYesYes
Difficulty breathingYesYesNo

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