Know the Facts about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Coronavirus or Flu: Symptoms, Prevention, Vaccine

Dr. Emil Lesho, Infectious Disease Specialist at Rochester Regional Health, helps us understand the difference between coronavirus and the flu.

March 19, 2020

Mother checking child's temperature for coronavirus or flu

COVID-19 and influenza (flu) are both contagious viruses that cause respiratory illnesses, and both diseases are spread worldwide. Understanding how they differ in symptoms, transmission, prevention, and more is beneficial to minimizing the spread and helpful to determine the next steps you should take if experiencing symptoms.

Symptoms

Both can cause a fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms can be mild or severe, sometimes fatal in rare cases.

Both diseases can result in pneumonia, which is inflammation of the lungs in which air sacs fill with pus and may become solid.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call your healthcare provider.

Learn early flu symptoms

Transmission

Both COVID-19 and flu can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person sneezing, coughing, or talking in close proximity.

The CDC says the virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”), and is spreading at a faster rate in some areas compared with others.

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

People with the flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after symptoms begin. However, healthy adults may sometimes infect others one day before symptoms show and up to five to seven days after becoming ill.

Flu numbers for March 2020 are in

Prevention

You can lower your risk of contracting COVID-19 and influenza by:

  • frequently and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • covering your cough with the crook of your elbow
  • limiting contact with infected people
  • staying home

Medications

COVID-19: Antiviral medications are currently being tested to see if they can reduce or eliminate symptoms of COVID-19. Currently there is no treatment for COVID-19

Flu: There are antiviral medications that can address symptoms and sometimes shorten the duration of the disease, like Tamiflu.

Read our new flu guide

Vaccine

COVID-19: There is currently no vaccine available for COVID-19. However, clinical trials are in progress. The first patients have been given a potential vaccine. According to the United States National Institutes of Health, 45 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 will be given two doses of the vaccine over a span of six weeks.

Flu: There is an effective vaccine available to help prevent and reduce the severity of many dangerous types of the flu.

Coronavirus vs. Flu vs. Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies start to impact people as winter winds down and spring comes into bloom. If you suffer from allergies, it's important to be able to recognize if it is your allergies that have struck and not the new coronavirus or the flu.

“With the relatively warm March, spring pollen season is right around the corner, and symptoms of allergies and viral infections can often be difficult to differentiate,” said Syed Mustafa, MD, Allergy Specialist at Rochester Regional Health 

“Some key differences are that viral infections should last days, not weeks or months, like allergies. Symptoms accompanied with a fever would suggest a viral infection, whereas symptoms like sneezing and itchy nose or eyes would suggest allergies.”

If your sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and itchy eyes last longer than a week, call your local healthcare provider.

Next Steps

While people remain at risk of both COVID-19 and the flu, it is important to take precautions to prevent both.

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Cover cough and don’t touch your face
  • Limit contact with others and stay home
  • Don’t travel
  • If you experience symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, fever and body aches, call your healthcare provider
  • Follow the guidance of state and local health departments
Know the Facts of COVID-19

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