COVID-19 vs. the flu

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, fresh challenges continue to arise. New variants and spells of rising case counts are rocking the world, with Croatia hitting a record high of 9,058 daily cases just last month. Meanwhile, the ongoing winter season also means more instances of flu, which many people may find difficult to differentiate from COVID-19.

Fortunately, as much as there are some similarities, the two have distinct differences. Below, we’ll discuss the two conditions, their symptoms, and related treatments to give you the knowledge you need to make it through both the flu season and the pandemic safely.

How is COVID-19 different from the flu?

According to UK Research and Innovation, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that’s part of the coronavirus family. This family includes conditions like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and the common cold. It’s also highly contagious.

Droplets from infected persons can travel through speaking, coughing, or sneezing, and then be inhaled by surrounding individuals. One can also get infected by coming into contact with a contaminated surface and subsequently touching the nose, eyes, or mouth.

Once COVID-19 enters the body, it can cause mild to moderate respiratory symptoms in most individuals. However, those with comorbidities, individuals who are immunocompromised, and the elderly may experience more severe symptoms.

The flu is also a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. It spreads in ways similar to COVID-19 and also causes a range of mild to severe symptoms across different individuals. However, it is not a coronavirus. As compared to COVID-19, it’s less contagious, less likely to cause severe illness, and has a lower mortality rate.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu?

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary between patients. However, a guide to the COVID-19 from SymptomFind reports that the most frequently occurring symptoms are also symptoms similar to the flu. These include a fever or chills, dry cough, body aches, fatigue, a sore throat, and a runny nose.

Some unique and less common symptoms of COVID-19 include a loss of taste or smell; gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea; conjunctivitis; skin changes like rashes or hives; and brain fog or confusion. Severe complications include pneumonia, blood clotting, heart and kidney failure, and general organ failure.

Symptoms of COVID-19 usually appear within two weeks of infection, which is why those who are exposed to the virus are typically instructed to isolate for that period of time. Meanwhile, flu symptoms appear one to four days after exposure.

What are the different treatments for COVID-19 and the flu?

Since the flu has been around for longer, there are more treatment options available. Patients usually allow the condition to pass at home, but in some cases, doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs like baloxavir marboxil, peramivir, oseltamivir phosphate, and zanamivir. Currently, remdesivir is the only antiviral drug approved for COVID-19, while the oral treatment molnupiravir is currently under emergency use authorization in some countries.

We’ve previously mentioned on the Salubrius Vita blog that antibiotics are commonly, and improperly, used to treat the flu. This is ineffective; antibiotics are meant to target bacteria, not viruses. Somewhat similarly, many individuals have also incorrectly been using ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug, for COVID-19. It is currently not recommended for use to treat COVID-19 pending further clinical trials.

Beyond these treatment options, prevention of both conditions is also done through vaccination. Yearly flu shots help “match” the flu variant in circulation during each flu season. Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccines build up effectiveness through one or two initial inoculations, with an additional booster shot meant to protect recipients’ new variants and/or waning immunity, and possibly more boosters on the way should those variants continue to emerge.

Do I have COVID or the flu?

The first step is to look out for those unique COVID-19 symptoms mentioned earlier. If you aren’t experiencing any of them, it’s best to get tested for COVID-19 to rule the possibility out.

However, the best way to approach both the pandemic and flu season is to treat every symptom as possibly relating to COVID. Additionally, make sure your vaccines are up to date. AP News reports that it’s safe to take both COVID-19 and flu shots around the same tie.

Most importantly, take steps to isolate and get tested if you or members of your family have been exposed to either COVID-19 or the flu. By knowing what to do and what to look out for, you’re better prepared to navigate your way through the winter and out of the pandemic.


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