The cold and flu season is officially upon us. Which usually puts a lot of us on alert for the first sign of a sniffle. At least, that’s how it was back in the old days before the COVID pandemic. These days, our reaction to any sign of illness is quite different.
COVID-19 And The Flu Have Similar Symptoms
Both the flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses, while COVID is caused by infection with the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
Even though they are two different viruses, they have plenty of similarities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu and COVID-19 can present themselves in the same way because these viruses have a long list of common symptoms. They include:
- Shortness of Breath
- Sore Throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
The One Major Sign You Have COVID-19
COVID-19 and the flu have a lot in common and can give you that generally ill, rundown feeling. But doctors say that there is something to look out for that’s a major indication you have COVID-19 and not the flu—losing the ability to smell or taste.
Medically, this is referred to as anosmia (loss of smell) and ageusia (loss of taste). Dr. Daniel Uslan, MD, co-chief infection prevention officer at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, says that the loss of taste and smell is really the only difference symptom-wise when it comes to the two viruses. He noted to The Wall Street Journal that the clinical symptoms and signs of the flu and COVID-19 are “virtually identical.”
Not Everyone Gets The Same Symptoms
The loss of taste or smell is one of the most commonly reported early symptoms of COVID-19. However, not all cases of COVID-19 present with this symptom. If you can still smell or taste, it’s not a guarantee you are COVID-free, regardless of vaccination status.
Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID may experience milder symptoms of a breakthrough case that can feel just like the flu.
“You may just think it’s a stuffy nose or allergy symptoms, but that could be as simple as your breakthrough infection,” Cameron Wolfe, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital told The Wall Street Journal.
We should mention that even though it’s less common than a single infection, it’s entirely possible to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Which could be another factor in trying to figure out what virus you have.
“Co-infections can happen, especially in young children,” explains Dr. Flor Munoz, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital.
Doctors say that because of the enhanced sanitation and safety measures amid the pandemic, the flu was not very prevalent in 2020. And, it might not be again in 2021. This means it’s more than likely you have COVID-19 and not the flu if you experience any symptoms this cold and flu season.
“If you haven’t gotten your currently recommended doses of COVID-19 vaccine, get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can, and ideally get a flu vaccine by the end of October,” says the CDC.