What is the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

Telling the difference between influenza and coronavirus can be quite difficult because their symptoms are the same. Katie Imborek, MD, director of offsite primary care for University of Iowa Health Care helps break down the differences.

Symptoms of both conditions:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Body aches
  • Headache

COVID-19 only symptoms:

  • Loss of taste
  • Loss of smell

COVID-19 also has additional elements to consider:

  • COVID-19 is also more contagious and can spread much faster than influenza.
  • People with COVID-19 may also experience a more severe lung infection.
  • People with COVID-19 are at greater risk of dying either during or after infection.
  • In children, COVID-19 can cause a rare, but serious multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

Waiting for a COVID-19 vaccination? There’s more you can do!

While research is underway to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, we already have a vaccine to protect us from influenza. Getting your flu shot as soon as it is available will help prevent a serious influenza infection.

Last reviewed: 
September 2020
Alternative Names: 
Influenza
2019 novel coronavirus

Interested in using our health content?