Influenza or COVID-19, What’s the Difference?
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Published on March 13, 2020

COVID-19 virus illustration

Influenza or COVID-19, What’s the Difference?

Just as flu season started winding down in the region, COVID-19 showed up. Both influenza and COVID-19 can be transmitted in the same ways and both can present in the same ways. They share many similarities, but many differences as well.

Both influenza and COVID-19 can

  • Cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Be mild or severe, but rarely fatal
  • Result in pneumonia
  • Be spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or talking, and both can be spread before symptoms appear.

Now that you know the similarities, here’s a look at the differences between the flu and COVID-19.


  • The flu can be caused by a number of different strains of influenza viruses.
  • COVID-19 is caused by one virus, the novel 2019 coronavirus.


  • The flu and COVID-19 can both be spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks
  • COVID-19 might also be spread through the air when tiny droplets hang in the air even after the infected person leaves the room.


  • Antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, can address some flu symptoms and possibly shorten its duration.
  • Testing continues on antiviral medications for COVID-19 to see if they can address the symptoms.


  • A flu shot can prevent some of the dangerous types of flu, or reduce the severity if it’s contracted.
  • Work continues on a COVID-19 vaccine, but there is none available at this time.

Using the term “coronavirus” can cause confusion as well. COVID-19 is a coronavirus, but not the only one. COVID-19 specifies a certain strain of a coronavirus (COronaVIrus Disease-2019 = COVID-19).

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s, and seven of them can infect people, including three that made headlines over the years:

People around the world often get infected with four other common human coronaviruses – 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1. In fact, most people get infected with one of these at some point in their life. They present like the common cold, with mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.

The flu and any coronavirus, including COVID-19, may be prevented by frequent, thorough hand washing, coughing into your elbow, staying home when sick and limiting contact with infected people.

To see the latest information about COVID-19, visit the COVID-19 Resource Page on

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