What You Need to Know About the Flu and COVID-19 This Fall

on September 28, 2020

Don't Panic over a mask

Flu season is officially upon us and as the days get shorter and temperatures start to drop, the looming threats of both the flu and COVID-19 are becoming a little more real.

The flu and COVID-19 have some of the same symptoms so it can be challenging to tell them apart, but there are key differences that can help you distinguish between the two. As October approaches, make sure you know the differentiating factors between these two sicknesses, so you can make it through the cold months safely.


The Flu vs. COVID-19

The Symptoms

The flu and COVID-19 are both highly contagious respiratory sicknesses that everybody wants to avoid, but they come from different viruses. The flu stems from influenza while COVID comes from a new form of the coronavirus called SARS-Cov-2.

Each illness has a variety of possible symptoms people can have including having no symptoms at all (asymptomatic). Common symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19 include:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Exhaustion
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

COVID-19 is different from the flu in that sometimes people who have the virus experience lack of taste and ability to smell. This is one key differentiating factor between these two illnesses.

For both of these sicknesses, days can go by after a person is infected before they start to experience symptoms if any at all. Usually, if someone has the flu, they begin to experience symptoms between 1 and 4 days after coming into contact with influenza. 

For COVID-19, symptoms might not kick in for much longer. While symptoms taking 5+ days to kick in isn’t a surefire way to know if you have COVID-19, combined with understanding your symptoms, it can give you a better guess as to if you have the flu or COVID-19.



COVID-19 and the flu are spread in many of the same ways. They are both often times contracted via droplets from an infected person’s mouth or nose and risk is increased when an infected person is within 6 feet of another person. Both sicknesses can also be spread by someone who is asymptomatic, making it tricky to pinpoint where infected people contracted the illnesses.

While both the flu and COVID-19 are highly contagious, it has been shown that COVID-19 spreads more quickly and easily among populations than the flu.



Because we know more about the flu than COVID-19, we know that often times, the flu runs its course within two weeks of contraction. While there are some complications that can arise, typically people with the flu recover within a few days to a couple weeks.

COVID-19 however, has varying durations. Some people have had it for only a couple of weeks while others have suffered through the virus for months on end. Common complications that can arise if you contract COVID-19 include:


  • Respiratory failure
  • Pneumonia
  • Organ failure
  • Development of fluid in the lungs
  • Inflammation
  • Bacterial infections
  • Blood clots

 If you are unsure if you have the flu or COVID-19 the length of time in which you are sick could help you pinpoint which illness you’ve contracted.



The flu has multiple vaccines available to prevent contraction and to lessen symptoms. On the other hand, because COVID-19 is a newer sickness, there is not yet a vaccine available.

Going into this flu season, make sure you take as many precautions as possible to keep yourself and others safe. Wash your hands, wear your mask, follow social distancing guidelines, and stay home if you’re feeling sick.

The best way to prevent the flu is to make sure you and everyone in your household gets their flu shot. If you start to feel sick, don’t panic. Call your primary doctor and let them know your symptoms. They may instruct you to come in, so they can more accurately pinpoint your sickness or ask you to get a COVID-19 test.

While this new and unprecedented situation we find ourselves in isn’t ideal, we can make sure we are staying as safe and healthy as possible by following the CDC’s guidelines.





Lawrence O. Gostin, JD; Daniel A. Salmon, MPH, PhD -