Throughout the continuing pandemic, COVID-19 has been commonly compared to seasonal influenza. However, while there may be some similarities between the flu and the novel coronavirus, the two are still quite different in many ways. It’s true that both are contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by very different viruses.
If you start to feel ill, you may wonder whether or not you have COVID-19 or flu symptoms and what steps to take—especially once the seasonal flu hits in the fall and winter months. Let’s take a look at influenza vs. COVID-19.
COVID-19 vs. Flu
While we’re still learning more about the novel coronavirus every day, we do know that COVID-19 and influenza are both respiratory infections. People infected with these respiratory viruses can have a wide range of symptoms and illness severity. Some people may be asymptomatic carriers or experience very mild symptoms, while others may suffer from severe pneumonia may require hospitalization.
Influenza and COVID-19 are both transmitted in the air in respiratory droplets. This makes these viruses quite contagious. COVID-19 has a longer incubation time (the time from exposure to the onset of symptoms or infection) of up to 14 days. In contrast, the incubation time for influenza is shorter at a maximum of five days. COVID-19's long incubation time is thought to be a key factor contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How Contagious Are Influenza and COVID-19?
While the flu is spread more easily, those who have COVID-19 may be contagious for a longer period of time than those infected with influenza. People who have the flu can be contagious up to one day before showing symptoms and can remain contagious for up to seven days. Infants and those with weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer.
Those who have COVID-19 may be contagious up to two days before showing symptoms. They may also remain contagious for at least 10 days after signs and symptoms of the illness first appear.
What’s the Severity of COVID-19 vs. Influenza?
COVID-19 data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that up to 80% of infections are asymptomatic or mild, while 15% are severe enough to require oxygen and 5% are critical enough to require ventilation. Instances of severe and critical cases seem to be higher than what is typically seen with influenza. Those of older age or with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of severe infection with COVID-19.
How Deadly Is COVID-19 vs. Influenza?
COVID-19 appears to have a higher mortality rate than influenza, though the data is ever changing as we learn more about the high incidence of asymptomatic infections. The current data for mortality in COVID-19-infected individuals is between 3-4%, while mortality for seasonal influenza is typically below 0.1%. COVID-19 is most likely to cause severe infection in elderly patients with other medical problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Influenza is known to be highest risk for patients less than four years of age and greater than 65 years of age. However, the data for COVID-19 is limited due to how new it is compared to influenza. As time passes, our understanding of how deadly this illness is may change.
Signs and symptoms of the flu:
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
Signs and symptoms of COVID-19:
- Change in or loss of taste and smell
- Body aches
- Shortness of breath
Prevent the Spread
With the flu season right around the corner, it’s vital to protect our own immune systems and prevent the spread of both influenza and COVID-19. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These steps should also help to control the spread of influenza during this fall and winter flu season.
Ways to prevent the spread of respiratory illness:
- Maintain proper social distancing of 6 ft. or more—both indoors and outdoors.
- Wear a mask when out in public.
- If you begin to feel sick, you should stay home and visit a testing site to determine whether or not you should be tested for COVID-19.
- Make sure to wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or any areas of your face without having properly washed your hands first.
- Avoid crowded places when possible.
Get Tested for COVID-19 at The Urgency Room
If you believe you have symptoms of COVID-19 and would like to be tested, make an appointment for rapid testing at The Urgency Room, or visit one of our three locations for a walk-in test, without an appointment. If you have any health concerns unrelated to COVID, visit any one of our three facilities in Eagan, Woodbury, or Vadnais Heights.
We are committed to keeping patients with non-COVID and/or respiratory concerns safe and separate at all locations. Our number one priority is protecting our patients, staff, and the communities we serve, and we will continue to take all necessary safety precautions at our facilities. Be sure to check out our blog for additional information on COVID-19 and other health concerns.