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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

How to Tell the Difference Between COVID-19 and the Flu

With businesses and workplaces returning to a “new normal,” you may not have as much control over your COVID-19 exposure risks as you did during quarantine. However, even though a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available, getting the flu vaccine is one thing you can do to take control of your health and reduce the chances that you will become ill during the upcoming flu season.

COVID-19 and flu symptoms are similar, so it may be difficult to tell which virus you have. Here are questions to ask yourself to determine whether COVID-19 or flu caused your symptoms, as well as some advice on what you should do if you become ill.

What are my symptoms? Many symptoms of COVID-19 and flu overlap. Common symptoms of both illnesses include: fever, chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or aches, headache, and vomiting or diarrhea (more common among kids). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one symptom of COVID-19 that’s not usually present with flu is a new loss of taste or smell.

Did I get a flu shot? CDC research estimates that the flu vaccine usually reduces the risk of getting the flu by 4–60 percent. Getting the flu shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu, but it does decrease your chances of infection and could prevent complications if you do get sick.

Lowering your chances of getting flu is even more important during the pandemic, when an already-weak immune system or flu complications could make you or your loved ones more vulnerable to COVID-19. The CDC recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October.

Have I been exposed to anyone who tested positive? Testing is available to diagnose COVID-19 and flu. If you had close contact with someone who had a positive test for one of these viruses, it increases your chances of contracting the same illness.

How long did it take for symptoms to develop after exposure? COVID-19 has a longer incubation period than flu. Flu symptoms typically develop one to four days after infection, while COVID-19 symptoms can develop anywhere from two to 14 days after infection. This information could be helpful if you have a known exposure to someone who tested positive for one of these illnesses.

What should I do if I get sick? If you come down with symptoms and aren’t sure whether they are caused by COVID-19 or flu, the first thing you should do is quarantine yourself. Stay home and avoid contact with other members of your household.
If you’re concerned about your symptoms or if you are at high risk of complications from COVID-19 or flu, you should contact your health-care clinician. If you have emergency symptoms—such as difficulty breathing, chest pressure, confusion, inability to wake up or stay awake, or blue lips or face—call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

What can I do to protect my family and reduce the risk of possible exposure to COVID-19 and flu?

Just as COVID-19 and flu have similar symptoms, the same prevention measures apply for both viruses.

Limit possible exposure to COVID-19 and flu. The best way to reduce the risk of getting a contagious disease is to limit possible exposure to it. Limit group gatherings and practice social distancing, which means staying at least six feet away from non-household members when in public. Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.

Practice proper hygiene. We know COVID-19 and flu both primarily spread from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, so it’s important that we all practice proper hygiene:

• Cover your coughs and sneezes with the bend of your arm.

• Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds at a time. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

• Avoid touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth) with your hands.

• When greeting people, avoid shaking hands, hugging, or kissing.

• Regularly clean often-touched surfaces with disinfectant.

Wear a facemask in public. Masks curtail the spread of not only COVID-19, but also flu. Avoid masks with a valve because these only offer protection for those wearing the mask and not others. 

Content provided by Nuvance Health,