COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, and influenza, or the flu, share many of the same symptoms. Similarly, these two diseases share some symptoms with the common cold. COVID-19 is a new form of coronavirus which can cause severe upper respiratory infection. It’s often used synonymously with coronavirus, but a little-understood fact is that there are 7 different kinds of coronaviruses that can infect humans. COVID-19 is a novel type of coronavirus.

A common myth is that this new type is a mutation of the common cold, but this is incorrect – some forms of coronavirus can cause the common cold, or a mild respiratory infection, but the new COVID-19 can cause a more severe infection.

The symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu overlap. In both diseases, individuals can even be asymptomatic. The symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • body aches
  • headaches
  • sore throat
  • congestion
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • chills
  • shortness of breath

With COVID-19, a loss of taste or smell can also occur.

Incubation period differs from the two diseases, however. With the flu, individuals may experience symptoms 1-4 days after infection, while with COVID-19, the same is true after 2-5 days or as long as 14 days.

Symptoms also vary among individuals and sexes. Men appear to experience more severe cases of COVID-19 and die at higher rates compared to women. It’s unknown exactly why this is true, but researchers think it may be related to women having stronger immune systems. Interestingly, though, in severe cases of COVID-19, an excessive immune response occurs in the later stages of the disease, causing fluid buildup in the lungs, organ failure, and death. The immune response ends up killing the patient rather than the severity of the infection itself.

With flu season coming up and the similarities between the two viruses, healthcare providers will need to take extra measures in the form of testing to identify COVID-19 cases. This responsibility also falls on the general public. If symptoms are experienced, an individual should request testing for both COVID-19 and influenza. Thankfully, a new, two-in-one test has now been authorized by the FDA, allowing healthcare practitioners to test for multiple respiratory diseases with just one sample. This new development should help in the identification and mitigation of the spread of COVID-19, especially once flu season is upon us.