COVID vs. The Flu

Do you have a cough? Fever? Shortness of breath? How do you know if you have COVID-19 or the flu? While these viruses have many similarities, there are a few distinguishing characteristics which may be helpful in differentiating between the two. According to the CDC, both COVID-19 and the flu share the following symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, and headache. However, with COVID-19, patients may also experience loss of taste or smell. With the flu, patients will typically experience symptoms 1-4 days after exposures, while COVID-19 symptoms can appear anywhere from 2-14 days after infection (average of 5 days). You are also likely contagious for longer with COVID-19. Infected persons can be contagious for 2 days prior to symptom onset and up to 10 days after symptoms begin. With the flu, patients are typically contagious for 1 day prior to onset of symptoms and up to 1 week after. With both viruses, you should also be fever free for at least 24 hours - regardless of symptom duration - before being around others. Both COVID-19 and the flu are spread primarily by droplets (small particles that occur with talking, sneezing, coughing, etc.). However, they can live on inanimate objects and be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces as well. COVID-19 is thought to be more contagious and spread more readily than the flu.

So how do we treat these illnesses? Both COVID-19 and influenza (flu) are viral illnesses and thus do not respond to antibiotics (which are used to treat bacterial infections). There are antiviral medications that have been approved for treatment of influenza (i.e. Tamiflu and Xofluza), and they should be started within 48 hours of symptom onset for best effect. These medications slow viral replication and lessen symptoms and duration of illness. While there are a multitude of new research studies underway, there is currently no approved prescription medication for treatment of COVID-19. The mainstay of treatment for both viruses includes symptom control: treating pains and fevers, staying well hydrated, resting, and limiting exposure to others. It is also important to closely monitor and recognize when to seek additional care in an inpatient setting. These symptoms include but are not limited to difficulty breathing, high fevers not responding to medication, confusion, etc. Overall, if you have any symptoms that may be concerning for either COVID-19 or the flu, we recommend you contact your provider so we can ensure you are best taken care of and prevent complications when possible.



Macy Nelms, FNP-BC Macy grew up in Chattanooga, TN. She attended nursing school at Lipscomb University where she graduated summa cum laude. Macy has worked as an RN at Saint Thomas Hospital on an orthopedic floor as well as in the intensive care unit. She received her Master’s degree from Belmont University and is currently a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner and a member of Sigma Theta Tau. Macy is passionate about providing individualized, patient-centered care across the life span. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with her husband, trying new foods and restaurants, and playing with her dog, Benji.

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