October 7, 2020


As influenza season approaches, it’s important to know what is making us feel terrible – COVID-19 or the flu. These two diseases have similar symptoms that can make it difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone without getting tested. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose are common symptoms of both COVID-19 and the flu. However, there are some key differences between the two diseases. To be prepared for flu season, see below for some differences between COVID-19 and the flu according to the CDC:

  • Loss of Taste or Smell – If a person has COVID-19, they may experience a change in or loss of taste or smell. Some COVID-19 victims don’t register even strong odors or tastes like onions or coffee. This symptom is not present in flu victims.
  • Time Period After Exposure – If a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to develop symptoms than if they had influenza. Typically, a person develops symptoms five days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as two days and as late as 14 days after infection. If a person has influenza, symptoms appear earlier than with COVID-19, typically one to four days after infection.
  • High-Risk Populations – The risk of complications for healthy children is actually higher for influenza compared to COVID-19. Young children are at a higher risk of severe illness from the flu. The highest risk individuals for both diseases are older adults, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant people.

It’s difficult to fully be prepared when illness strikes but knowing the differences between COVID-19 and influenza will help you determine the next steps in treating an illness. One of the best ways to prepare for flu season is to get a flu shot. The CDC is recommending that everyone six months of age and older need a flu vaccine. Flu shots are available for free at your local pharmacy, but you can also go to CDC’s Vaccine Finder to locate the closest vaccination center near you.


COVID-19 or Influenza?

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Wellness Wednesday: The Difference Between COVID-19 and Influenza

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Sarah Michaels

Authored By

Sarah Michaels , RN

Director of Population Health & Analytics
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