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Mighty Blog

Flu vs. coronavirus: What’s the difference and which one do I have?

Last update: 4/7/2020.

If you are feeling sick recently, you may be wondering: Do I have coronavirus? Because of the massive amount of media coverage on this illness, that’s a common thought.

But, it’s important to know the difference between coronavirus and the flu so, you know how to feel better.

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a lower-respiratory illness that typically comes with a fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Although the exact way coronavirus spreads is still to-be-determined, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this virus spreads from person to person on respiratory droplets. There are two different ways this can happen:

  1. Through close contact—within about 6 feet—with someone who has COVID-19. =
  2. If someone with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs and those droplets come in contact with you, especially your eyes, nose or mouth.

What is the difference between coronavirus and the flu?

The difference between coronavirus and the flu is the symptoms you have. While they’re similar, there are some key differences between the two.

Coronavirus symptoms

COVID-19, or coronavirus, affects the lower respiratory tract of a person’s lungs and produces symptoms like:

  • Loss of sense of taste or smell.
  • Scratchy throat.
  • Body aches.
  • Headaches.
  • Cough.
  • Fever.

Flu symptoms

Influenza and the flu affect a different part of a person’s respiratory tract. It affects the upper respiratory tract, which means if you have the flu, you will likely also have:

  • Runny nose.
  • Cough.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Body aches.
  • Vomiting/diarrhea.

In order to help prevent yourself from getting sick with coronavirus and/or the flu, make sure to wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid contact with sick people.

This table from the WHO and CDC compares symptoms of coronavirus with common cold viruses and the flu:

A chart explaining the symptoms of coronavirus, a cold and the flu

What should I do if I think I have coronavirus?

If you think you have coronavirus, or COVID-19, the most important thing you can do is: Stay home. Do not go to your health care provider’s office or an emergency department if you think you have been infected with coronavirus or if you have the symptoms of COVID-19.

Instead, call your provider and ask them how to move forward. Your provider will then help you with next steps and tell you whether to go to the clinic or emergency department.