Blog

October 3, 2020

Is it Flu or COVID-19? How to Tell the Difference. 

Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP

With the onset of flu season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, people are asking themselves an important question: how will I know the difference if I get sick? The short answer, unfortunately, is that you won’t. To know if you’ve contracted the flu or COVID-19, you will require a prompt visit to your nurse practitioner (NP) or other primary care provider and appropriate testing. 

Both flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses that produce symptoms similar to the common cold, bronchitis and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2), and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. While we wait for the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccination, the flu vaccine is readily available now — and it is more important than ever for patients to get vaccinated this year. Not only will this help limit the possibility of contracting the flu, a flu shot will be vital to ensure that emergency rooms and hospital beds remain available for those patients impacted by COVID-19. 

If you or a family member do get sick, call your primary care provider as soon as possible. Testing will likely be required to determine whether the culprit is the flu virus or COVID-19, and it will be important to self-quarantine until such time that test results confirm you are negative for COVID-19 or not contagious if you have the flu. 

COVID-19 and flu symptoms can range from mild to severe and, in the case of COVID-19, can be transmitted without obvious symptoms. Common symptoms of both viruses include:

●    Fever or feeling feverish/chills.
●    Cough.
●    Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
●    Fatigue (tiredness).
●    Sore throat.
●    Runny or stuffy nose.
●    Muscle pain or body aches.
●    Headache.

One symptom unique to COVID-19 is the loss of taste or smell.

There are antiviral treatments available for the flu, but not for COVID-19, so it’s important to get your flu shot, continue social distancing, wear a mask and follow all public health guidelines to help protect your health and that of your loved ones.

If you have more questions about COVID-19, visit NPsCombatCOVID.org and reach out to your NP.