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Flu or COVID-19?

The flu season is fast approaching.  If you are sick can you tell if it’s COVID-19 or the seasonal flu?  What is the difference?

Symptoms of the flu and COVID-19: 

Woman coughing and has warm clothes on and looks cold and not feeling well.

Flu (Influenza) Symptoms:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Headache  
  • Fatigue

COVID-19 Symptoms:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing (in severe cases)
  • Sore throat
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Congestion or runny nose

Many of the symptoms are similar, as both have a dry cough, fever, headaches, body aches, and fatigue.  However, with COVID-19 you may have shortness of breath which usually does not happen with the flu.   Another common COVID-19 symptom is loss of taste or smell.  In some people the fatigue can be so bad they do not get up to drink or eat, which increases the risk of dehydration. 

When unsure what you have, you should consult with your health care professional.  If you have any of these symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • confused
  • bluish lips or face
  • persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • may be dehydrated

Please go to the emergency room and get check out.  These symptoms can have severe complications or lead to them. 

What about the flu?  Influenza can be serious in certain people such as young children, older adults, and those with immunocompromised conditions as they are more at risk for serious complications. For anyone over the age of 6 months the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the annual flu shot.   You may think why bother getting the flu shot this year.  However, any time we can reduce our risk of serious complications and problems we should take our health care providers advice.  If you are unsure if you should take the flu shot, please talk it over with your health care provider as they have better knowledge of your health status.  

Person giving a shot to someone in the arm.

Don’t put off getting the flu shot.  It may take two weeks before it’s effective.  Many pharmacies are offering it free, so there is no excuse.  With getting the flu shot you increase your chances of avoiding the flu. 

Author:  Pat Brinkman, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Fayette County

Reviewer: Lorrisssa Dunfee, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension Belmont County

References: 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (2020).  Seasonal Flu Shot. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/flushot.htm.

Mayo Clinic, (2020).  Flu Shot: Your Beat Bet for Avoiding Influenza, Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/flu/in-depth/flu-shots/art-20048000?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=heart-health

Tolliver, S. (2020). A Cold, the Flu or COVID-19:  What’s the difference? The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center,  Available at https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/cold-flu-or-covid19?utm_source=osuwmc_marketing_allpatient&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=202009_corp_covidemails

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