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How Does Covid-19 Differ From Flu?

Covid-19 and flu are both, respiratory illnesses that spread from one person to another. These two conditions could cause similar symptoms in the affected individuals. However, there are some significant differences between the two. This article talks about how covid-19 differs from flu. Hope you would find this quite beneficial while reading.

How Does COVID-19 Differ From Flu?

How Does COVID-19 Differ From Flu?

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In Their Incubation Period

The time that passes between the initial infection and the symptoms’ onset in a person, is known as Incubation period. In case of Covid-19 the incubation period ranges somewhere between 2 days to 14 days. As per the CDC, the average incubation period of Covid-19 is estimated to be 4 days.

However, the incubation period for the flu is quite shorter, and average incubation period is 2 days and it might range somewhere between 1 day to 4 days.

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In Their Symptoms

The symptoms of Covid-19 and flu have some kind of differences.

Symptoms in case of Covid-19 can develop in between 1-14 days.(1) But those having flu will start experiencing flu symptoms typically within 1-4 days.(2)

However, as per a 2020 research, the median incubation period for Covid-19 is 5.1 days(3)

Symptoms in case of Covid-19 are quite similar in adults and children. But, as per the CDC or the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, children generally get fever along with mild symptoms of cold such as cough or runny nose.

In case of Covid-19 there is shortness of breath and this symptoms usually occurs in 5-10 days after the first sign of fever. Most common symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Some patients might also experience diarrhea, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches or pains.

However, with flu, the shortness of breath is not common and is not usually as severe as in case of Covid-19. Sneezing, runny nose, postnasal drip, facial pain, and itchy eye are some of the common symptoms of flu, which are not typical of Covid-19.

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In Their Causes

It is right to say that both, Covid-19 and fly are viral infections. Viruses are very tiny microorganisms that generally survive by invading other living cells known to be the host cells for the viruses. These viruses multiply inside the host cells and they can then spread on to other new cells around the host body.

Coronaviruses are actually a family of viruses that usually cause respiratory infections. The SARS-CoV-2 causes the infections resulting in Covid-19.

However, flu is caused by two types of viruses, namely the influenza A and influenza B. There are also many subtypes of the influenza A virus; and any of these viruses could result in the flu.

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences in their Severity and Mortality

It must be noted that symptoms of Covid-19 as well as flu can either be mild, moderate or severe; and both the cases cause pneumonia.

However, the World Health Organization has classified some mild symptoms of Covid-19 where the person might not require hospitalization, and these symptoms are cough, fever, fatigue, nasal congestion, loss of appetite, sore throat, and headache.

It must also be mentioned that as per the WHO or World Health Organization, about 15% of covid-19 cases are pretty severe, and 5% are critical. Those patients that are in a critical state require a ventilator for them to breathe.(4) The chance of severe and critical cases of infection is very high with Covid-19 than the flu. It can be said that Covid-19 is more deadly or fatal than flu.

According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate for Covid-19 is higher than that of the cases of flu.(5)

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In Their Mode Of Transmission

Both Covid-19 and flu can spread from one person to another. Tiny droplets that contain the viruses can pass from an infected person to some other healthy person, usually via the nose and mouth through sneezing and coughing. Apart from this, the virus can even live on surface or objects and when one touches these objects, can get infected with the virus.

According to the WHO, we must remain at least 6 ft away from anyone sneezing or coughing so as to help prevent the transmission of SARC-CoV-2 or the Covid-19 infection.

As per the CDC, infected patients can transmit the flu virus to other people who are 6 feet away.(6)

As per the WHO, the speed of virus transmission differs between the covid-19 and flu viruses.(7) Flu symptoms starts appearing sooner and it can spread at a faster rate than Covid-19 virus.

There are even some differences in their transmission between adults and children. As per the WHO, the transmission of flu virus from children to adults is quite common.(8) But, as per early data available, it appears that it is more common for adults to pass Covid-19 virus infection onto children. Children are however less likely to develop the symptoms.

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In Their Rate Of Transmission

Though there are studies that are currently ongoing, it seems to be like the RO or the Reproductive number for Covid-19 is quite higher than that of the flu.

Reproductive number is the number of secondary infections that could be generated from one single infected person. The RO for Covid-19 has been estimated to be 2.2(9)

However, the RO for flu is estimated to be about 1.28(10)

From this information it can be concluded that a person with Covid-19 can transmit the viral infection to more people potentially than the number of people a person with the flu can transmit.

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In Their Treatments

At present there is no approved treatment or antiviral drugs approved for treating Covid-19. However, these are some ways to help you treat the symptoms of Covid-19 and to prevent any complication that might occur. In case you have mild cases of Covid-19 you must remain at home and maintain social distancing. Doctors might prescribe antipyretics for reducing the symptoms like fever. However, in case you have severe or critical cases of Covid-19 you might require supplemental oxygen or ventilators so as to treat the respiratory issues that might occur.

However, as flu has been around us since much longer time periods, there are a lot of treatment options available for it. Most individuals suffering from flu do not need medical treatment. However, your doctor might prescribe you some antiviral drugs in certain cases, so as to reduce your flu symptoms in 1-2 days. (11) The antiviral drugs aid your body fight the flu virus. These drugs would treat the symptoms and also reduce the duration of your illness.

Covid-19 Vs Flu: Differences In The Preventive Measures

At present there is no licensed vaccine for preventing Covid-19. Moreover, there are no specific medications that are specifically recommended for treating Covid-19. (12) There is no vaccine available to prevent Covid-19 as the virus known is new and it would take some time to develop an appropriate vaccine for the same. So, the best preventive measures for Covid-19 include, washing your hands properly with soap and water, maintaining social distancing, avoiding touching your nose, eyes, or mouth, staying at home and avoiding crowd and large gathering, and using handkerchief while sneezing or coughing.

However, one of the most effective ways to prevent the flu is via vaccination. Many strains of influenza virus can cause the infection, and the most common strains vary depending on the particular season. You doctor will be predicting the strains that will be most common each season so as to select the appropriate vaccine components for you.

Bottom Line:

We could find that there are some similar symptoms in both, covid-19 and flu. However, these two conditions differ from each other in many ways and we have also talked about how does covid-19 differ from flu. Both these viral infections pass from one person to another and thus we need to prevent ourselves from getting infected by these conditions. Flu; already has vaccines available, but there are no vaccines for Covid-19 as the condition is very new. However, scientists and doctors are working at their best to find out some sort of vaccine and treatment for Covid-19 too.

But, till the time we need to prevent Covid-19 by practicing social distancing and also maintaining good personal hygiene and also by keeping our house and surrounding clean. It is important for you to wash your hands well in soap and water and also avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose so as to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

NOTE: Consult with your doctor in case you experience any sort of flu-like symptoms and get yourself diagnosed and treated well.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 11, 2020

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