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COVID vs. Flu

November 17, 2021

Although COVID-19 has been the primary focal point for health risks, the flu is still out there and it’s important to know the differences between them. Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between the two in terms of signs/symptoms, how they’re spread, how long symptoms appear after exposure, and how long someone can spread them.


Signs and Symptoms:

Both the flu and COVID-19 can vary in degrees of signs and symptoms, ranging from being asymptomatic (no symptoms) to experiencing severe symptoms. Common symptoms that the flu and COVID-19 share include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain/body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Change in or loss of taste/smell (more frequent with COVID-19)


How They’re Spread:

Both viruses are mainly spread be small particles containing the viruses that are expelled when people sick with the illness talk, cough, or sneeze. These particles can land in the noses or mouths of people who are in close contact (within around 6 feet) and possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Both viruses can also be spread by people before they begin showing symptoms, people with very mild symptoms, and by asymptomatic people.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is generally more contagious than flu viruses. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreading events than the flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can easily and quickly spread to a lot of people and result in continual spreading as time progresses.


How Long Symptoms Appear After Exposure:

For both viruses, one or more days can pass between when a person becomes infected and when that person starts to experience symptoms.

The viruses differ from each other in that if a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to experience symptoms than if they had the flu. Typically, a person with the flu experiences symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after exposure, whereas a person with COVID-19 experiences symptoms about 5 days after being exposed, but symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure.


How Long Someone Can Spread the Virus:

For both COVID-19 and the flu, it is possible to spread the virus 1 day before experiencing any symptoms.

People who have the flu are most contagious during the initial 3-4 days of their illness, but many people remain contagious for about 7 days. Infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for even longer. For COVID-19, it is possible for an infected person to spread the virus for about 2 days before experiencing any symptoms and can remain contagious for at least 10 days. Hospitalized people and those with weakened immune systems can be contagious for 20 days or even longer.


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