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What’s the difference between COVID-19 and the flu? It can be hard to tell.

the difference between COVID-19 and the flu

Remember when a cough was just a cough? Most of the time it still is. After all, a cough is just your body’s way of responding when something irritates your throat or airways. Thus, an occasional cough is normal and healthy. But in the time of a global pandemic, coughs can be a concerning red flag of the coronavirus — and many people are wondering: what’s the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, and how can I tell which one I have?

This is especially concerning when your cough persists. Then, it could be from one of the seasonal allergies we suffer from in the Chicagoland area like ragweed. But if you’re also suffering from a stuffy nose, achiness, maybe a sore throat and the beginning of a fever, then they could be signs of flu, or worse — COVID-19.

First of all, don’t panic right away if you fall ill, but do take precautions to keep yourself isolated so as to avoid spreading either virus around. It’s important to realize that COVID-19 and the flu have many overlapping signs and ailments, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Some of the common symptoms that COVID-19 and the flu share include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache

The similar symptoms can absolutely make it hard to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, but there’s one key thing to watch out for: If you don’t have a fever and your eyes aren’t itchy, it’s probably the common flu, not COVID-19. Flu symptoms usually appear from one to four days after exposure. 

When thinking about the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, know that the coronavirus appears to be more contagious and to spread more quickly than the flu. It’s symptoms usually appear 2-14 days after exposure, and you may even experience the telltale loss of taste or smell. 

Be alert for emergency warning signs*of COVID-19. If someone shows any of these indicators, seek emergency medical care immediately:

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

The only true way to know the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, and to get a definitive answer as to which one you’re suffering from is to be tested by a healthcare provider. You can discuss your symptoms with them to determine if you meet the criteria for testing.

While there’s no prevention for COVID-19 right now, you can avoid the influenza virus by getting a yearly flu vaccine. They’re easy to get at your local pharmacy and are usually available each year in the fall. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more important to be vaccinated against the flu to avoid a mistaken diagnosis of COVID-19 and preserve healthcare resources — this is especially important too given the fact that it’s so hard to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu. And, contrary to some leadership sentiments, there is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases the risk of getting COVID-19.

Your best protections against COVID-19 and the flu are to follow the guidelines provided by the CDC – wash your hands, wear a mask, and stay at least six feet apart. Keeping your Chicagoland home and work area clean and regularly disinfected is also a huge step in staying healthy. ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons can assist you with that. We’re experienced in dealing with viral outbreaks. We disinfect all horizontal surfaces and high-touch points such as door handles, elevator buttons, light switches, and so on. Then we use a specialized fogging system with EPA registered hospital-grade disinfectants to provide the most complete coverage and disinfection. 

*This list does not include all potential symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other conditions that are severe or are troubling you.

Nasutsa Mabwa
Nasutsa Mabwa
Nasutsa Mabwa is President of ServiceMaster by Simons, a MBE/WBE City of Chicago and State of Illinois certified firm. She is a 2018 Chicago Business Journal Influential Women in Business Honoree, a member of Crain’s Chicago Business 40 under 40 and a 2018 ServiceMaster(c) Achiever Award recipient. She serves on the board for the Civic Federation, is the Government Liaison to the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, and the serves on Advisory Board for Roosevelt University’s Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate. She is IICRC certified for WRT & FSRT.