Blog Cold & flu

Coronavirus Symptoms vs Flu Symptoms

written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse Written by Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.

September 20, 2022 Read Time - 6 minutes

Coronavirus Symptoms vs Flu Symptoms: Find Out the Similarities and Differences

Coronavirus is a respiratory infection that has caused a global pandemic. COVID-19 stands for “coronavirus disease 2019” and is a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.

COVID-19 is similar to influenza because it is a respiratory infection that spreads from person to person. This usually happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks near another person. The virus is passed through tiny particles from the infected person into the uninfected person’s airway or lungs.

While more is learned daily about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, there is still a lot of unknown information.  Continue reading to learn more about how coronavirus symptoms compare with flu symptoms.

Overview COVID-19 Vs Flu

Fever or feeling feverish/chillsYesYes
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathingYesYes
Fatigue (tiredness)YesYes
Sore throatYesYes
Runny or stuffy noseYesYes
Muscle pain or body achesYesYes
Vomiting or diarrheaYesYes
New loss of taste or smellYesNo
Dry, persistent coughYesNo
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What Is The Difference Between Influenza And COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), both COVID-19 and influenza “cause respiratory disease, yet there are important differences between the two viruses and how they spread.”

COVID-19 and influenza are similar in that they have similar disease presentations. That is, they are both respiratory diseases, which present as a wide range of illnesses from asymptomatic (no symptoms) to mild to severe illnesses (even death). Both viruses are transmitted by contact, droplets, and fomites.

However, COVID-19 and influenza differentiate by the speed at which they infect people. Influenza has a shorter incubation period (the time from infection to the appearance of symptoms) than COVID-19. The incubation period for influenza is 3 days, while COVID-19 is 2-14 days. This means that influenza could spread faster than COVID-19.

It appears that COVID-19 affects fewer children than adults, and the clinical attack rates on children 19 years and younger are low. Recent data suggests that children are infected from adults and not vice versa. The number of secondary infections generated from one infected COVID-19 individual is 2 to 2.5 times higher than influenza.

While symptoms for both COVID-19 and influenza vary from mild to severe, most severe influenza infections are in children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with underlying chronic medical conditions or those who are immunocompromised.

For COVID-19, the data suggest that 80% of infections are mild, while 15% are severe and 5% require ventilation. The number of severe infections would be higher than what is observed with influenza infections.

It appears that COVID-19 mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of reported cases) is higher than seasonal influenza (3-4% versus 0.1%). These figures may be influenced by access to healthcare and the quality of healthcare provided.

COVID Symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling tired
  • Shaking or chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Problems with smell or taste
  • Digestive problems (nausea or diarrhea)
  • Red or purple spots on fingers and toes
  • Rash

People who are infected with COVID-19 have varying degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from no symptoms to severe symptoms. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. An unusual symptom, only present with COVID-19, is the loss of taste or smell.

Read: COVID-19 Mental Health Center

Influenza Symptoms

Flu symptoms are similar to COVID-19 symptoms. Influenza symptoms usually appear 1 day after exposure. Typically a person develops symptoms 1 to 4 days after infection. Flu symptoms include:

  • Fever*
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (sometimes)

*It is important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

The only way to confirm the diagnosis of influenza or COVID-19 is through testing, usually via a nasopharyngeal swab.

Flu and COVID-19 Complications

Both the flu and COVID-19 can cause serious complications. Complications may include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in the lungs)
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury (heart attack)
  • Stroke
  • Multiple-organ failure
  • Worsening of a chronic medical condition
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues
  • Secondary bacterial infections
  • Blood clots in the lungs, heart, or legs

Please call your medical provider if you are exhibiting severe symptoms or symptoms that are concerning to you. Emergency warning signs for COVID-19 include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

When Do COVID-19 Symptoms Start Appearing?

COVID-19 symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. Typically, a person develops symptoms 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as 2 days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection. How long someone can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 is still under investigation.

Is It Possible To Have The Flu And COVID-19 At The Same Time?

Yes, unfortunately it is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and flu at the same time. Refer to the chart comparison above of symptoms of the flu and COVID-19.

COVID At-Home Test Kit

Because some of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, so a test may be needed to confirm diagnosis.

COVID-19 tests can now be obtained without a doctor’s prescription and fully performed at home. The COVID-19 home test is approved for the use of adults and children aged 2 and older, with or without COVID symptoms. The test requires a gentle lower nasal swab to be collected by you.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Get Treatment Online 

If you are exhibiting symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, PlushCare can help with your treatment plan. Influenza and COVID-19 are infections that can be easily diagnosed. Getting help for your flu or COVID-19 illness can come from a healthcare provider at PlushCare.

Influenza and COVID-19 are conditions that can get worse over time, if not treated. Do not wait for your symptoms to get better on their own. If symptoms are affecting your daily life, make an appointment with PlushCare today to speak with a doctor. 

Read More About Coronavirus Symptoms vs Flu Symptoms


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19. Accessed on January 9, 2021.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Coronavirus Disease 2019 vs. the Flu. Accessed on January 22, 2021.

World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Similarities and differences with influenza. Accessed on January 9, 2021.

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