August 24, 2023
Flu vs COVID: How to Tell, And How to Get Tested

"Learn how to differentiate between COVID-19 and the flu with our comprehensive guide, outlining the symptoms, transmission, and testing procedures for each respiratory illness."

As we get further into spring and leave flu season behind, there are still some respiratory illnesses making their rounds. It’s normal to get sick here and there, and it’s never really been a cause for concern. But since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, typical cold or flu symptoms can be quick to make you worry. The two viruses share many symptoms, but they also have major differences. So, how do you know if you have COVID-19, or if it’s just the flu? We've outlined everything you need to know to tell the difference.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This virus is a member of the coronavirus family, which includes common viruses that cause colds and respiratory illness. It is spread through contact with respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, or blood, from an infected person. These can be passed through coughing or sneezing, or by touching a surface that has been contaminated and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever.
  • Tiredness.
  • Dry cough.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Shortness of breath.

These symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. If you experience these symptoms, you should be tested for COVID-19, which is done through a nasal swab or saliva test.

What Is the Flu?

The flu, or influenza, shares symptoms with COVID-19, but it is caused by the influenza virus. This virus is highly contagious and is spread in much the same way as COVID-19. The flu is often a seasonal illness, with flu season typically running from October to May and peak activity occurring between December and February. Some common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Dry cough
  • Aches and pains
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Sore throat

These symptoms are similar to that of COVID-19, but they usually appear one to four days after exposure to the virus. You can be tested for the flu through a nasal swab or saliva test.

How Are COVID-19 and Flu Different?

While the flu and COVID-19 share most of their symptoms, there are a few distinct differences between the two, mainly in how quickly they spread, how symptoms present themselves, and the severity of the symptoms.

There are symptoms specific to the COVID-19 virus, such as the loss of taste or smell. This symptom is not seen in people who have the flu, and it may develop anywhere from two days after contracting the virus to fourteen days after symptom onset. You can also experience new or recurring COVID-19 symptoms up to four weeks after infection.

COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu, and symptoms seem to take longer to appear and last longer. Additionally, COVID-19 tends to cause more severe respiratory illness than the flu, which can lead to pneumonia and other serious health complications. There have been more fatal cases of COVID-19 reported than the flu, with more than 969,000 people dying in the United States, according to the CDC, as opposed to over 10,000 deaths from influenza.

How to Get Tested for COVID-19 and Flu?

If you think you may have either COVID-19 or the flu, it’s important to get tested. It is also possible to have both viruses at the same time. Both viruses can be tested by taking a nasal swab or saliva sample. Your primary care doctor will likely order a COVID-19 test if you have symptoms and have been in contact with someone who has the virus, or if you have recently traveled to an area where the virus is present.

Getting sick at this uncertain time can be concerning, especially when you aren’t sure what the problem is. Whether you think you have the flu or COVID-19, it is best to get tested as soon as possible. At Connected Health, we offer an antibody test, a rapid diagnostic test, and a Gold Standard RT-PCR test to give you quick results and peace of mind.

Connected Health in Wexford, Pennsylvania is a concierge primary medicine practice that believes strongly in putting the focus back on the patient. We offer a variety of services ranging from primary care to COVID-19 testing. If you’d like to schedule a consultation, learn more about our care services, or want to explore your membership options, give us a call at (724) 933-4300. You can also book an appointment online!

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