COVID-19 vs. The Flu

By Kayla Gilchrist

Oftentimes, many people confuse COVID-19 and its risks with influenza (flu), believing they are relatively the same.

“It’s not that serious; it’s just like the flu.”

“Why can’t they find a seasonal vaccine for coronavirus like they did for the flu?”

“I’ve had the flu before so I’m pretty sure I can handle COVID-19.”

Although both COVID-19 and the flu share similar characteristics, such as both being contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by separate viruses which bring about some vital differences.

Coronaviruses are found in both humans and animals causing mild to moderate respiratory issues. COVID-19 is caused by a completely new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes a more severe illness. The flu is caused by influenza viruses — completely different strands of viruses than coronaviruses.

From: Waco Family Health Center

Due to some of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 being similar, it can be difficult to tell the difference without testing to confirm a proper diagnosis. Because COVID-19 comes from an entirely new strand of virus (SARS-CoV-2), we are learning more and more everyday.

Given the best and most updated information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, below are some key differences and similarities between COVID-19 and influenza.


1. Common symptoms shared by both COVID-19 and the flu which range from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to severe are:

  • 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
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults

2. For both the flu and COVID-19, one or more days can pass before an infected person starts to experience signs of illness or symptoms.

3. It’s possible to spread both viruses up to 24 hours before showing any symptoms.

4. Both can spread between people within about 6 feet or from person-to-person contact through droplets made when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can reach the mouth, nose, or be inhaled into the lungs of someone nearby an infected person. Both viruses can also spread through physical touch (e.g. shaking hands) or by people touching infected surfaces then touching their face.

5. Both COVID-19 and flu pose the highest risk to:

  • Older adults
  • People with certain underlying medical conditions
  • Pregnant women

6. Both COVID-19 and flu can cause these complications:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (i.e. fluid in lungs)
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury (e.g. heart attacks and stroke)
  • Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, nervous system or diabetes)
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues
  • Secondary bacterial infections (i.e. infections that occur in people who have already been infected with flu or COVID-19)

7. Anyone with a high-risk of complications and/or who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 or flu should receive proper medical care.

8. Any and all vaccinations for COVID-19 and flu must be approved or authorized for emergency use (EUA) by the FDA.


1. If you have COVID-19, it could take longer to develop symptoms than if you have the flu — up to 14 days after infection. A person with the flu usually develops signs and symptoms anywhere from one to four days after infection. Unlike the flu, with COVID-19 you may also experience a change in or loss of taste or smell as part of your symptoms.

2. If you have COVID-19, you might be contagious longer than if you have the flu. Most people with the flu are contagious up to 7 days while those with COVID-19 can remain contagious up to 10 days.

3. COVID-19 is believed to be more contagious. It’s been observed to spread quicker and more easily to a wider range of people than the flu.

4. Children are more at risk for complications from the flu than from COVID-19, however the CDC states that “both infants and children with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for both flu and COVID-19.”

5. School-aged children pose a higher risk of a rare but severe complication of COVID-19 called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MISC).

6. Those with the flu will most likely recover in less than two weeks unless they develop complications, whereas recovering from COVID-19 could take up to two weeks and even longer should complications develop.

7. The flu has FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs to treat it and multiple vaccines produced annually for prevention. Studies, including a study on an antiviral agent called Remdesivir, which is available under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), are still in progress on how to prevent and treat COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) developed a regularly updated guide on treatment of COVID-19 here

Here are resources to use for what to do if you are sick with COVID-19 or the flu and how to prevent them:


Kayla Gilchrist is an adventure-seeking, fun-loving, Christ-oriented, twenty-something with an extensive background in media and a knack for writing. She received her bachelor’s in communications with a minor in theatre arts from Prairie View A&M University. When she isn’t writing or managing social media accounts, Kayla enjoys acting, directing short films, delicious food, poetry, swimming, novels, and spending time with family and friends. She happily just joined the City of Waco team and is excited to use her skills as a helpful resource during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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1 Comment

  1. Regina Harrison on August 28, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    Excellent article with useful information that I actually enjoyed reading! Thank you Kayla and the City of Waco

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