Feeling under the weather with a sniffly nose and a sore throat? Covid-19 and the flu (or influenza) can be hard to tell apart. After all, both are respiratory diseases, and they are transmitted via contact with infectious respiratory droplets.
Beyond that however, they differ in important ways. So here are the similarities and key differences between these two illnesses, to help you better care for yourself.
SYMPTOMS & CONTAGIOUSNESS
While the flu and Covid-19 are both viral infections, they are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by the Influenza A or Influenza B virus and the Covid-19 by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The best way to know what you’re ill with is first of all to take an ATK test. And when in doubt, it’s best to self-isolate until you’re sure, so that you can keep your loved ones and household members safe and well.
Although the symptoms for Covid-19 and flu are similar (runny nose, sore throat, fever, muscle aches and headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing), there are differences that may help you figure out:
- Loss of sense of smell and taste: It is very common for someone who is sick with Covid-19 to lose their smell and taste; whereas this is less likely if you’re ill with the flu.
- Time taken for your symptoms to appear after being infected: With the flu, your symptoms may start to emerge 1 to 4 days after infection; whereas for Covid-19, you may start to experience your symptoms 2 to 5 days after being infected.
- Contagiousness: For those with the flu, you may be able to transmit the virus about one day before your symptoms emerge. It’s also observed that only individuals experiencing symptoms would be contagious. On the other hand, for those with Covid-19, even asymptomatic individuals may be contagious and you can spread the Covid-19 virus a few days before any symptoms show.
SEVERITY OF ILLNESS & RECOVERY
Covid-19 appears to cause more severe illness more frequently than influenza. Part of this difference may be attributed to the fact that it is caused by a new type of coronavirus, against which we have no immunity. By contrast, many people have at least some degree of immunity against influenza, enough to prevent hospitalization and complications in most instances.
For most individuals, you can recover at home for both Covid-19 and the flu. Your doctor will prescribe you medication, and this may include antiviral drugs, to manage the symptoms that you’re experiencing. And for those suffering from Covid-19, you should isolate at home (or in your room) for at least 72 hours; and either ensure you test negative on a ATK test or stay isolated for 7 days after testing positive, before you go back to your daily activities.
Seasonal influenza, as its name suggests, tends to come and go as the weather changes. Influenza viruses circulate year-round, but the number of new influenza cases generally increases in the cooler months and tapers off in the warmer months of the year. This does not mean that cold weather causes the flu; rather, cool weather, by bringing people indoors, along with other changes, is a contributing factor.
It is possible that Covid-19 could turn out to be a seasonal illness, similar to influenza. However, experts warn that, at least for now, warmer weather is unlikely to drive the disease away and more time is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF?
The same protective measures are effective against Covid-19 and influenza. Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself from sickness, whether it’s from Covid-19 or the flu. In addition to getting vaccinated, practising good hygiene habits can also minimise your chances of falling ill. This means:
- Maintaining at least a 1-metre distance from others and wearing a well-fitted mask when that’s not possible;
- Avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated places and settings;
- Opening windows or doors to keep rooms well ventilated;
- Coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue and throwing the tissue into a closed bin;
- Cleaning your hands frequently;
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth;
- Staying home if you don’t feel well.
And if you have any doubt, get in touch as soon as possible with a medical professional.