Influenza season is on its way, and confusion over the differences between the flu and COVID-19 has some people feeling uneasy. While neither illness is fully predictable, a few key differences in their presentations might help tell them apart in case you find yourself trying to figure out what you've got. Check out these symptom timelines to help distinguish between the two.
Flu symptoms usually begin after an incubation period of 1 to 4 days, according to the CDC. The illness onset is usually abrupt, with multiple symptoms hitting at once, although a recent Healthline report claims that some flu patients experience a cough before they notice a fever.
The Victoria Department of Health and Human Services, Australia breaks down the timeline. They explain that the first three days are likely to include a sudden fever, dry cough, headache, body aches and fatigue. Some people also have a stuffy nose and/or sore throat, but most adults don’t experience gastrointestinal involvement.
About 4 days in, the fever and body aches become less severe, but cough and chest discomfort often worsen, and the fatigue usually persists. By the 8th day in, the bulk of the symptoms are going or gone, although the cough and some fatigue might linger for a couple of weeks or so.
The incubation period for COVID-19 can run anywhere between 2 and 14 days, with the average length of time from exposure to symptom onset being 5 days. Patients are likely to notice a gradual progression of symptoms, usually beginning with a fever.
Respiratory symptoms and body aches typically come next, followed by nausea, vomiting and, finally, diarrhea. Some coronavirus patients lose their sense of smell and if this is noted, it's reason for immediate concern and testing. Experts point out that this progression is notably different from the sudden deluge of symptoms flu patients usually see.
It’s important to remember that these lists only outline typical cases. Both the flu and COVID-19 can present in vastly different ways, so make sure not to be too quick to brush off symptoms as one or the other. Remember, there’s a huge overlap in symptoms between these two illnesses.
Both the flu and COVID-19 can cause severe complications in seniors and people with weakened immune systems and COVID-19 can cause severe complications and even death in people with and without preexisting conditions. Anyone experiencing labored breathing, pain in the chest or stomach, altered consciousness or other potential signs of severe infection should seek immediate medical attention. It could be “just” the flu, but even the flu can still be serious.
We would also urge everyone as we head into this flu season to know where they can get a test for coronavirus near them. Most towns and cities have lists available and make testing free and easy so it's worth getting tested at the first sign of symptoms to help prevent being the person who spreads it among your friends and family. Knowledge is power.
COVID-19 and the flu both have the potential to make a person’s life miserable, and both can become deadly but there the similarities stop as COVID-19 has already read up a death toll that's nothing at all like the flu. COVID-19 is much more contagious, and it has significantly greater destructive power, so please don't delay getting tested if you're at all ill with similar symptoms. Of course, we should treat all severe viral infections seriously, no matter what mold it seems to fit and seek out care when ill but hopefully, this checklist can help you to make a distinction if you need to.
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