The flu and COVID-19 share many overlapping symptoms, which is why, if you show signs of any of the symptoms listed below, the first thing you should do is seek testing and isolate yourself from others in your household. The CDC has said that COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu for certain groups of people, which means it can spread more easily and faster from person to person.
Dr. Favini says that testing every person with symptoms for the flu and COVID-19 is ideal, but he’s unsure if the healthcare system is prepared for that scale of testing. “The problem is that the country is unprepared for the surge in COVID-19 cases that every public health expert is expecting this fall and winter. Unless we change our approach to testing and invest massively in scaling it up, you should expect to see long delays on COVID-19 test results that will be really problematic for taking care of people and for public health,” Favini says.
Shared symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu, according to the CDC:
Fever or feeling feverish; experiencing chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle pain or body aches
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
Differences between COVID-19 and the flu
There are several symptoms that vary between COVID-19 and the flu, but it’s important to first keep in mind that the symptoms for COVID-19 and the flu can vary for person to person, so the following symptoms can’t necessarily rule out one virus over the other.
One major difference between COVID-19 and the flu is that people who experience COVID-19 report a change or loss of smell and taste. But not everyone experiences this symptom with the virus, and it can occur at any point when a person is sick.
How to protect yourself from both the flu and COVID-19
The good news is that many of the practices that you’re already doing to prevent COVID-19 can also help prevent the flu. “We will all need to double down on our efforts to protect each other this flu season. Stay home if you can. Wear a mask any time you leave your home, avoid touching your face, stay six feet away from others, wash your hands well with soap and water when you return home,” Dr. Favini says.
Additionally, getting the flu vaccine when it’s available is important to protect yourself from the flu. While it’s not a fail-safe to keep you from getting sick, it does cut down the odds that you’ll be infected with the flu, which is still contagious and can cause serious health issues in many people.