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COVID-19 and the flu: What are the differences?

Published 10 Feb 2021 • By Clémence Arnaud

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has raised many questions and anxieties. The similarity of symptoms between the flu and COVID-19 has long been a source of debate.

What are the differences between influenza viruses and COVID-19? How do you recognise the symptoms of the coronavirus? 

We explain it all in our article!

COVID-19 and the flu: What are the differences?

COVID and influenza, 2 distinct viruses:

The COVID-19 and influenza viruses are not from the same family. The former belongs to the coronavirus subfamily and the latter belongs to the influenza virus subfamily.

The influenza virus is a seasonal virus in temperate zones such as the UK, meaning that it comes back every year at the same period, winter. The subtlety in this virus is that it mutates at random every year, allowing it to bypass the immune defences that our bodies develop, and therefore infect people from one year to the next.

As for SARS-CoV-2, the recent appearance of variants shows that the virus is mutating to bypass immune defences and adapt to the human body to remain infectious.

Both these viruses are transmitted via the respiratory tract and respiratory droplets: by coughing, speaking too closely to others, sneezing etc. One can also be infected by touching certain objects such as door handles, which is why it is important to wash your hands regularly and to avoid touching your face. These two pathologies can cause respiratory symptoms, but a few differences between them still remain.

>>> You can find more information about COVID-19's status as a respiratory illness in our Health Magazine article here <<<

COVID and the flu, different symptoms:

In addition to a difference in symptoms, there is also a difference in the time it take for these symptoms to appear. For the flu, symptoms appear quite suddenly with a rather short incubation time of 1 to 3 days. In cases of coronavirus, the first symptoms may appear 1 to 12 days after infection and appear staggered in time. 

Let's take some time to review various symptoms and see if they are specific to influenza or COVID-19:

editor_meta_bo_img_961e48f762f6d0df498df5ef404153f7.png Cough: This is a common symptom for both illnesses. It is a dry cough and not a wet cough in both pathologies.

editor_meta_bo_img_985ad69fb74378d81e51b893af394621.png Muscle and joint pain: Muscle soreness and fatigue can be felt in both pathologies.

editor_meta_bo_img_3ea1e47c87363e8f88194485d5797dc5.png Fatigue: Fatigue is also a symptom that can be found in both pathologies.

editor_meta_bo_img_d87ecf38cdbd36d730de0a10a07f6bba.png Fever, headaches and chills: Fever and headache are common symptoms of influenza and coronavirus. Chills, however, are more common with the flu than with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

editor_meta_bo_img_6d2552fe31901a492aff88e4ab180762.png editor_meta_bo_img_2c66e9be5a9cf3c8584ebc01c316fad3.png Loss of taste and/or smell: This is a characteristic symptom of the coronavirus and occurs in 30 to 50% of infected adults, with a higher prevalence in women.

However, please remain cautious, as the symptoms described above are not always experienced by COVID-19 patients. It is estimated that approximately 30 to 60% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 have very few or no symptom at all. They are mostly young people or children under the age of 12. These are also the patients who tend to infect fewer people.

The coronavirus also seems to have long-term consequences in some patients. Long-term follow-up and monitoring of patients with Long COVID will be vital.

Conclusion

Despite several similarities between these two pathologies, COVID-19 is far more deadly than the seasonal flu. It is important to know how to make a distinction between symptoms of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu to be able to isolate oneself and thus protect those around you. 


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Author: Clémence Arnaud, Digital Marketing Assistant

Clémence Arnaud is currently an intern in the digital marketing team. Her role is to lead and moderate the community so that users have the best possible experience on the platform. She is also be responsible for... >> Learn more

7 comments


nineteen_gale
on 13/02/2021

Thank you for an interesting and informative article. I am very fortunate that I have not suffered from Flu for as far back as I can remember. I do have the vaccination every year. I have also been fortunate that I have not had any symptoms of Covid and have tested negative. At the age of nearly 77 in a month, I consider myself fortunate. I have been very careful in following the guidance and isolating. I have not been to the shops or anywhere, other than for medical appointments and walks in the open field, not meeting any people in the vast field where I walk.

Take care and stay safe every one


lesmal • Ambassador
on 13/02/2021

Thank you for an interesting article. I am also very fortunate and very seldom get flu, just the common cold. I am also vaccinated yearly against flu. I am a hayfever sufferer which is not seasonal for me, but all year round, but taking an antihistamine medication daily helps to keep the hayfever and allergies away to a certain extent.

I have had 2 Covid tests (November 2020) and just recently, but both tested negative. Following the rules, washing hands, wearing a mask, self-distancing, and only going out for essentials and medication is my way of hopefully protecting both myself and other people.  

May everyone stay safe and healthy! 


nineteen_gale
on 14/02/2021

@lesmal‍ 

Hi Lesley

What antihistamines are you on ? Some of the antihistamines have nasty side effects and raise your liver enzymes. Cetirizine is one of them. You are very knowledgeable and I am sure you will have looked it up yourself. Please don't mind me telling you, but i am speaking from my personal experience. May be not every one gets them just giving you heads up.

Take care and stay safe. 


robjmckinney • Ambassador
on 14/02/2021

All varieties of these viruses seem to be deadly if you don't have immunity, lest we forget until recently flu killed 20,000 to 30,000 every winter and still kill around 10,000. The Spanish flu killed young people and left mostly the weak and old alone. Covid kills the old and weak and the threat of Scars and Bird Flu are already squaring up for a rerun. Even Ebola is rearing its ugly face this week, a real disease that could kill many times that of Covid. So we are under threat all the time and welcome our flu jab with an upgraded Covid for the changing variants. Even the Cold is a threat to my wife who ended up on life support in ICU a couple of years ago for many weeks. So all of these viruses are a threat to us even just mild ones, no doubt one day one will get us. Although we love our granddaughter whenever she vists she desposits yet another virus that will lay us out. But at the end of the day we have to live with risks of such viruses and accept that one day one will kill us, stay safe!


lesmal • Ambassador
on 16/02/2021

@nineteen_gale‍ ... Thank you for the 'heads up' but I've been on Cetirizine for many months/years now. 

My GP and Neurologist are well aware I am on it for allergic reactions, as I'm practically allergic to anything! My GP knows I'm allergic to Penicillin also and always tries to find another medication that doesn't react accordingly. All my medical records have Cetirizine listed as one of my permanent medications, and I take a daily dosage of 10mg. (5mg. in the morning & 5mg. in the evening). 

Cetirizine appears to be the only anti-histamine that has helped with my allergies, but I am sure my GP keeps a good check on my blood results when he does regular blood tests. 

Keep safe and healthy!  

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