COVID-19 and the flu: How to tell the difference

Archive, COVID Blog, COVID Facts, Feel Good, Month, September, Staying Healthy, Topics

With similar symptoms associated with both illnesses, how can you tell the difference?

This flu season will be incredibly unique from previous years due to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic began just as the 2019-2020 flu season was coming to a close. But even in that short overlap of time, many patients were concerned that their flu symptoms also mirrored those symptoms of COVID-19, leading to anxiety and confusion.

Those classic COVID-19 symptoms also common with the flu include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

The flu also has the potential to impair one’s sense of smell (from nasal cells damaged by congestion), another frequent symptom associated with the coronavirus.

Even the illnesses’ methods of transmission are similar: Droplets from close contact with an infected person.

The question then becomes how to differentiate if your symptoms are caused by the flu or COVID-19.

The only true way to determine if an illness and its symptoms are the flu or COVID-19 is through a physician’s determination and/or a flu and COVID-19 test.


The difficulty in distinguishing between the two illnesses based on symptoms adds importance to taking precautions against both.

For COVID-19, that means continuing the precautions of mask-wearing and social distancing. And since the two illnesses are transmitted the same way, these precautions can also help limit the spread of the flu.

In terms of influenza precautions, medical professionals continue to highly recommend everyone eligible for a flu shot get one – this year more than ever.


Make an appointment

Make an appointment with a McLaren primary care doctor to get your flu shot.

Click here

Latest COVID-19 information

Get the latest information on COVID-19 from the CDC.

Click here