Posted on: March 6, 2020 at 11:40 am

As the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, continues to spread around the world, fear and in some unfortunate cases, discrimination, is also spreading. 

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People are right to be concerned and to be taking precautions to protect themselves and the public. That being said, before you panic because you or someone you know is sick, you need to educate yourself on the differences between COVID-19 and influenza.

The Similarities Between The Flu and COVID-19

The tough part about distinguishing between this new coronavirus and the flu is that they present themselves in a very similar fashion. (1, 2, 4)

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Both illnesses: 

  • May cause fever, coughing, body aching, fatigue, and even vomiting and diarrhea in some cases. 
  • Can range from mild to severe.
  • Can be fatal.
  • Can cause pneumonia. (1, 2, 4, 5)

They are also transmitted from person to person in a similar way:

  • Through droplets in the air from sneezing, coughing, and talking.
  • Can be spread before symptoms are evident. (1, 2, 4, 5)

Just like the flu, COVID-19 cannot be treated using antibiotics, because it is not a bacterial infection. In general, the way to treat both flu and coronavirus is by managing the symptoms, rest, and plenty of fluids. (1, 2, 4, 5)

Prevention for both illnesses is also the same: By using proper hygiene, staying away from sick people, and staying home if you personally are ill. Activities such as handwashing and coughing into your elbow will help protect yourself and others from the spread of disease. (1, 2, 4, 5)

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The Differences Between The Flu and COVID-19

The biggest difference between these two illnesses is that the flu – or influenza – is actually a group of viral infections caused by a variety of different types and strains of flu viruses. COVID-19 is caused by one virus and one virus only: the novel 2019 coronavirus. (2)

Other differences between the flu and this coronavirus are:

  • COVID-19 might be airborne, meaning that the droplets left behind from coughing, sneezing, and talking can remain in the air and infect people even after the infected person has left the room. (2)
  • The antiviral medications that are currently used to reduce and shorten the duration of flu symptoms have not shown to be effective against COVID-19. This is something that doctors and scientists are currently working on. (2)
  • There is no vaccine for COVID-19 like there is for the flu. The process is currently underway to create one, however it could be many months before we have one that is effective. (2, 3)

Read: Ginger-Garlic Soup Made With 52 Cloves of Garlic Can Help Defeat Colds, Flu and Even Norovirus

The Severity of the Flu vs. COVID-19

As of March 5, 2020, 97,873 cases of COVID-19 and 3,347 deaths have been reported worldwide. 209 cases have been reported in the United States with 11 resulting in death. (2)

The flu, on the other hand, is estimated at about 1 billion cases around the world with 9.3 to 45 million of those in America. The flu causes 291,000 to 646,000 deaths per year globally, with 12,000 to 61,000 of those in the U.S. (2)

One of the biggest issues with the coronavirus currently is that it is not very well understood. So while the actual infection and mortality rate of the virus is lower than that of the flu, we don’t have a way to control or treat it. Its potential airborne quality has allowed it to spread globally very quickly, and because we don’t yet have great ways of detecting it, it can be very difficult to quarantine and control.


Image Credit: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE

What You Can Do to Help

While most of us aren’t doctors and scientists and therefore can’t help create a magical antidote that will heal the population, we can do small things that can keep us safe and help to decrease the spread of the disease.

To help decrease the spread of both the flu and COVID-19, you can (3):

  • Wash your hand frequently.
  • Use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Do not spend time with sick people.
  • Stay home/quarantine yourself if you are ill.
  • Visit your doctor if you show any symptoms of either illness to get proper medical help and advice.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel, especially to places considered high-risk.

So remember, just because you or someone you know is sick doesn’t mean they have coronavirus. Don’t discriminate, make smart choices for your health, and see your doctor if you are at all concerned for yourself or a loved one.

Keep Reading: How to Prep For a Quarantine

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Julie Hambleton
Nutrition and Fitness Enthusiast
Julie Hambleton is a fitness and nutrition expert and co-founder of The Taste Archives along with her twin sister Brittany Hambleton.

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