We all know the feeling. You’re going about your day as usual, but something feels off. You’re a little sluggish. Maybe you feel slight irritation in your throat or notice your head is getting warm. Next thing you know, you’re laid up in bed with a Kleenex box on your right and a bottle of Pedialyte on your left.
For many, that’s flu season in a nutshell. But with the latest COVID-19 variant BA.5 in circulation, flu season has become more complicated, as influenza shares many similar qualities with COVID-19 that make it hard to differentiate between the two viruses. Read on for a closer look into the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and the flu.
Transmission and symptoms
Both influenza and COVID-19 are spread through close contact with others (usually within a range of 6 feet). The virus spreads when particles of the virus are expelled from people who are sick through sneezing, talking or coughing, causing the uninfected person to inhale these particles and then become sick. While people sick with the flu can be contagious for three to four days, those with COVID-19 can be contagious for up to eight days on average.
COVID-19 and influenza share many of the same symptoms, which is why it is difficult to diagnose someone with one of these viruses based on symptoms alone.
Influenza and COVID-19 pose varying degrees of symptom severity, with some people having no symptoms at all (asymptomatic) and others having severe symptoms that may require hospitalization. The most common symptoms that the flu and COVID-19 share include:
The most notable difference in symptoms between the two is the loss of taste or smell, which is more common in COVID-19 patients than the flu. However, in rare cases, people infected with the flu can experience minor loss of smell or taste.
Both COVID-19 and the flu have FDA authorized vaccine options available to the public. While the viruses share similarities in their symptoms and how they are spread, the vaccines are designed specifically for each virus, which means that a flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19 or vice versa.
For the 2022-2023 flu season, there are six FDA-licensed flu vaccines currently available to the public. Different vaccines are approved for use in different demographic groups, and based on your age and overall health, your physician will administer the vaccine that is most effective and safest for you. Regardless of which vaccine option you get, every flu vaccine available is designed to protect against four influenza viruses (two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses).
As for COVID-19, there are four FDA-authorized vaccines on the market currently. For most people, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines are recommended, as these vaccines are available in formulations for both adults and children as young as 6 months old. A more recent vaccination option now on the market is the Novavax protein subunit vaccine, which is only available for those 12 and older. Additionally, the J&J/Janssen viral vector vaccine is available to those who are allergic to the ingredients in the other vaccines , as well as those who have
Getting vaccinated protects you from severe illness from an influenza or COVID-19 infection and is recommended for all ages and demographics.
For mild cases of COVID-19, it is recommended to stay at home for a minimum of five days, with experts recommending bed rest and fever-reducing medication such as Advil or Tylenol. For those in the hospital or at high risk of COVID-19 complications due to age, obesity or ongoing medical conditions, the FDA-authorized intravenous antiviral drug Remdesivir may be used if recommended by a physician.
For influenza, antiviral medication (Tamiflu) can be prescribed by a physician. This medication can help limit the amount of time a person experiences flu symptoms, as well as reduce the severity of these symptoms. It is recommended to take Tamiflu within 48 hours of the start of symptoms for the medication to be most effective.
If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu, don’t wait to seek treatment. Midwest Express Clinic offers accurate and efficient COVID-19 and flu testing at all clinic locations. For more information or to find a clinic nearest you, visit our website.