Influenza (commonly known as the flu) and COVID-19 are both highly contagious respiratory illnesses and can easily spread to others. Although the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can look similar, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses.
COVID-19 is caused by the 2019 coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.
Flu is caused by any of several different types and strains of influenza viruses.
- Both illnesses can cause fever, cough, body aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children).
- Both can result in pneumonia.
- Both flu and COVID-19 can be mild or severe, or even fatal in rare cases.
COVID-19 can sometimes cause a person to suddenly lose their sense of smell (anosmia) or taste (ageusia).
By contrast, flu does not typically affect a person’s sense of smell or taste.
Shortness of breath is quite common with COVID-19 while it is a rare symptom of the flu.
Many people infected with the coronavirus do not feel sick or have any symptoms at all, but they can still transmit the virus to other people. By contrast, most people infected with flu tend to be symptomatic.
So how long does it take for symptoms to appear after exposure and infection?
If a person has COVID-19, it could take them longer to develop symptoms than if they had flu.
Typically, a person develops symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection.
Typically, a person develops symptoms 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as 2 days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection, and the time range can vary.
How do they spread?
- Both the flu and COVID-19 spread in similar ways. Droplets or smaller virus particles from a sick person can transmit the virus to other people nearby. The smallest particles may linger in the air, and another person can inhale them and become infected.
- However, COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people. Another important difference is there is a vaccine to protect against flu. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, though research is ongoing.
- Again, it’s important to note that people infected with the coronavirus or the flu may not realize they are sick for several days and, during that time, can unknowingly spread the disease to others before they even feel sick.
What are some complications caused by these illnesses?
Both COVID-19 and flu can result in complications, including:
- Respiratory failure requiring supplemental oxygen support
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (i.e. fluid in lungs), which usually lands people in ICU
- Heart problems
- Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock) commonly known as sepsis
- Secondary bacterial infections
Additional complications associated with COVID-19 can include:
- Blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs or brain
COVID-19 close to 3%. FLU causes <1% of deaths among the people infected.
Testing Options available:
Influenza or the FLU:
First of all, influenza virus testing is not required to make a clinical diagnosis of influenza in patients with suspected influenza, particularly during periods of increased cases. However, influenza virus testing can inform clinical management when these results may influence decisions such as:
- initiating antiviral treatment
- performing other diagnostic testing
- implementing infection prevention and control measures for influenza
Influenza virus testing is recommended for all patients with suspected influenza who are being admitted to the hospital. Furthermore, during a respiratory illness outbreak in a closed setting (such as long-term care facility or nursing homes), testing for influenza virus infection can be very helpful in determining if influenza is the cause of the outbreak.
There are several diagnostic tests available for detection of influenza viruses in respiratory specimens.
For the purposes of this forum, I would just like to mention the Rapid Influenza Diagnostic tests, which are readily available in outpatient settings, such as the doctors’ office and urgent care clinics. They can detect influenza viral antigens in 10-15 minutes with a reasonable accuracy.
Since COVID-19 is a new disease, information about the tests to detect the disease with high accuracy is still evolving. But here’s what we know now about tests that are currently available to the public:
Diagnostic tests for current COVID-19 infection:
If you want to know if you are currently infected with the COVID-19 virus, there are TWO types of tests:
- Molecular tests
- Antigen tests
Molecular tests (also called PCR tests)
How is it done? Nasal swabs, throat swabs, and tests of saliva or other bodily fluids.
You can get it done at a hospital or in a medical office.
What does the test look for? Molecular tests look for genetic material that comes only from the virus.
How long does it take to get results? It depends on lab capacity. Results may be ready the same day, but usually take at least a day or two. Throughout the pandemic, especially lately, delayed turnaround times of up to a week or two have been reported in many places.
A molecular test using a deep nasal swab is usually the best option, because it will have fewer false negative results than other diagnostic tests or samples from throat swabs or saliva. People who are in the hospital, though, may have other types of samples taken.
It is also performed using a nasal or throat swab.
It can be obtained at a hospital or doctor’s office or even at home (Quest Diagnostics, costs around $130).
If the test is negative, it should be confirmed by the PCR test which is more specific for COVID-19
This is a third type of test that requires a sample of blood. It checks for antibodies in the blood. However, it does not differentiate between the present and past infection.
Moreover, having an antibody test too early can lead to false negative results. That’s because it takes a week or two after infection for your immune system to produce antibodies.
The bottom line:
Unfortunately, getting a test for COVID-19 can be confusing because the options are changing and tests from many companies are being marketed. Despite the current limitations of testing, we’re lucky to have reasonably accurate tests available so early in the course of a newly identified virus.
Getting a flu vaccine this year may be more important than ever to reduce stress on healthcare facilities that are already busy with COVID-19 care.
Emergency care available
If you are having trouble breathing, have chest pain, inability to stay awake, confusion or blue lips or face, come to Medco ER & Urgent Care immediately for help.
If you suspect you have COVID-19, come in for evaluation.
If you think you have COVID-19 and you have a preexisting, chronic medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, kidney disease, asthma, obesity, lung disease or if you are pregnant, come in for evaluation.
- Plano: 3960 Legacy Drive on the corner of Legacy and Coit Road.
Call us @ 469-392-4000.
– Dr. Tariq Vora, Medco ER & Urgent Care
One of the most common illnesses we treat at Medco ER & Urgent Care is influenza (the flu). While it’s possible to contract the flu year-round, it’s more common to see an increase in those infected with the illness during the fall and winter. As we head into flu season, we believe it’s essential to be knowledgeable about the virus, its symptoms, and how to protect yourself from contracting and spreading the flu. These are the most frequently asked questions we often see regarding influenza.
What are the symptoms?
- Fever of over 100.4° F (38° C)
- Aching muscles
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
How do I know if I have a cold or the flu?
While the symptoms of influenza and the common cold are very similar, those with a cold are less likely to experience a fever, chills, and headaches. Those suffering from a cold are more likely to experience gradual symptoms rather than the abrupt, more severe symptoms of the flu. If you think that you may have the flu, its important that you promptly see a doctor to help prevent the spread of the virus. After a physical, assessing your symptoms and performing tests, your doctor will be able to more accurately tell if you are suffering from a common cold or the flu and treat your condition properly.
How long will I be contagious?
After exposure to the influenza virus, it may take between 1 and 4 days for you to develop symptoms. If a healthy adult has contracted the virus, they will be the most contagious in the first three or four days of developing symptoms but can be contagious 1 day before the appearance of symptoms and up to 7 of being sick. Children and those with a compromised immune system may be contagious for longer than 7 days.
Can the flu be treated at home?
If you are only experiencing minor flu-like symptoms, it is possible to treat and soothe flu symptoms at home with over the counter medication. However, a physician has the ability to more accurately diagnose your condition and prescribe the appropriate antiviral or related prescription medication.
When should I see a doctor for the flu?
If you think that you are experiencing severe flu-like symptoms or are in a high-risk group such as children under the age of 12, those over the age of 65, and individuals with chronic illness or a compromised immune system, it is essential you are seen by a physician. High-risk groups are more likely to develop complications related to the flu, such as pneumonia, sinus infections, bronchitis, and in some rare cases, hospitalization or death. Even in healthy adults, flu-like symptoms are shared by many other, often life-threatening conditions that may require immediate attention, such as a heart attack.
When should I go to the ER for flu-like symptoms?
You should go to the nearest emergency room or seek emergency medical help if you are in a high-risk group or are experiencing:
- A fever of 103° F or higher
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath while at rest
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Abdominal pain or pressure
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe vomiting
You should take your child to the emergency room or seek emergency medical help if they are experiencing:
- Any of the above symptoms
- Difficulty breathing or breathing fast
- A bluish tone to the skin
- A fever with a rash
- Limited liquid intake
What can I do to prevent the flu?
The best way to prevent contraction of the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. Visit Medco ER & Urgent Care in Plano or Frisco, at any time 24/7 to have you and your family vaccinated before flu season begins.
Wash your hands:
To help protect yourself from getting sick or spread of the virus, regularly wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
Cover your mouth:
Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid those who are sick:
Avoid exposure to the virus by limiting close contact with those who are sick. If you are caring for someone who has the flu, its best to limit the number of people who have contact with the sick individual, keep surfaces around the home disinfected, and make sure that all who are in the home are following the flu prevention measures listed above.
If you’re sick stay home:
While sometimes the contraction of influenza is unavoidable, it is imperative to stay home if you to become sick. Unless you are going to see your doctor, it’s recommended that those who are infected with the flu avoid public spaces to reduce the spread of the virus.
Why do I need to get a flu shot every year?
The first line of defense against the flu is getting vaccinated, but unlike other illnesses, there are many different strains of the influenza virus. This constant change in the virus, coupled with the body’s natural decline in immunity over time, makes it essential to get a new flu vaccination each year before the flu season starts.
Can I contract the flu from a flu shot?
This is a common misconception. You cannot contract influenza from the flu vaccine. However, the flu vaccine does not work right away. It takes about two weeks for your body to develop the proper antibodies to protect against the flu. Therefore the CDC recommends vaccination before the flu begins to spread through your community.
If you think you or a loved one might have the flu come to see us at one of our locations in Plano or Frisco. Each Medco ER & Urgent Care facility is equipped to diagnose, test, and treat minor to severe flu-like symptoms and related conditions under one roof, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.