Home Disease Influenza or Covid-19: symptoms, how to make the difference?

Influenza or Covid-19: symptoms, how to make the difference?


Difficult to differentiate the flu from a coronavirus infection. These two illnesses are respiratory infections that are transmitted in the same way and initially cause similar symptoms. What do they have in common? Their differences? What to do in case of suggestive signs?

The virus responsible for Covid-19 is very similar to that of influenza in its first manifestations, hence the risk of confusion between the two and the concern of patients. What do they have in common? Their differences?

Common points between influenza and Covid-19

The virus responsible for Covid-19 has similarities with that of influenza. Both diseases are respiratory infections like viral pneumonia. Here are their points in common:

Sick woman with symptoms

First, the virus of COVID-19 and that of influenza give a similar clinical picture, marked by respiratory manifestations. The symptoms are very varied: while some people are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, others have serious manifestations or even die,” says the World Health Organization. The two viruses cause similar symptoms.” Runny nose, fever, cough, stiffness, fatigue, the first symptoms of Covid-19 are comparable to those of the flu ” confirms a medical officer of health and hospital practitioner in public health.

A similar mode of transmission. The two viruses are transmitted in the same way: by close contact and near (less than 1.5 meters), by respiratory droplets (postillions, sneezing …) or through an object or a surface, previously touched by an infected person.

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Differences between influenza and Covid-19

Incubation period: Influenza has a shorter incubation period (time between infection and the onset of symptoms) than Covid-19: between 1 and 3 days for the flu versus 3 to 5 days (sometimes up to 14 days) for the Covid-19. 

Speed ​​of transmission: The coronavirus has a serial interval (speed of transmission of the virus between 2 consecutive cases on the chain of transmission) of 5 to 6 days while the flu has a serial interval of 3 days. The flu, therefore, spreads faster than the Covid-19.

Reproduction rate: The reproduction rate of Covid-19 (number of secondary infections caused by an infected individual) is 2 times to 2.5 times higher than that of influenza. 

People affected: Children are important vectors of influenza virus transmission in those around them. For Covid-19, studies indicate that children are less affected than adults and that clinical attack rates in 0-19 year olds are low.

Complications: Covid-19 has higher rates of severe forms and complications than the flu. Among the complications of a coronavirus infection: acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute renal failure or even multi-failure …

organVaccine: Several dozen vaccines against Covid-19 are being developed, there are some already validated by WHO and adopted by countries to vaccinate these citizens. However, each year a flu shot is available. 

What to do in case of symptoms?

► If you have any of the above symptoms, call the doctor. Stay at home and only go out when necessary, always with a mask. Protect yourself with a mask at home if you live with other people.

Sore throat, cold, digestive disorders … Several symptoms can characterize the Covid-19 infection. 40 to 50% of new infections are also asymptomatic.

Why get the flu shot?

The flu vaccine does not protect against infection with Covid-19 in any way.

Nevertheless, in this epidemic context, doctors, scientists, unions and politicians are increasingly recommending vaccination against seasonal flu and are calling for a wider vaccination of the population this year. There are several reasons for this:

► Rule out the hypothesis of influenza in a vaccinated person if they present symptoms suggestive of Covid-19.

► Limit the number of visitors to laboratories and screening centres.

► Relieve congestion in hospitals and doctors’ offices, particularly frequented by flu patients in autumn/winter.

► Avoid contracting the two diseases, which would be very dangerous, even fatal.

► Avoid a “double wave” of Covid-19 and seasonal flu.



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