Parent taking child's temperature while he lays in bed with a teddy bear

Mighty Blog

Flu vs. COVID-19: What’s the difference and which one do I have?

Last update: 9/17/2020

If you are feeling sick recently, you may be wondering: Do I have COVID-19? While COVID-19 is likely everyone’s first thought, there are other illnesses you could be sick with like, the common cold or the flu. This time of year, it’s important to know the difference between COVID-19 and the flu so, you know how to feel better.

Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract. COVID-19 is a lower-respiratory illness that is also highly contagious.

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

One of the main differences between COVID-19 and the flu is the symptoms you have. While they’re similar, there are some key differences between the two.

COVID-19 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 COVID-19 and/or the flu, make sure to wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid contact with sick people. Read more: How do I prevent COVID-19?

Difference in timing

According to the CDC, another main difference between these two illnesses is: How long symptoms appear after exposure and infection. COVID-19 may take a person longer to show symptoms than the flu.

COVID-19 symptoms

The CDC says, “Typically, a person develops symptoms 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as 2 days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection, and the time range can vary.”

Flu symptoms

“Typically, a person develops symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection,” says the CDC.

What should I do if I think my child has COVID-19?

If you think your child has COVID-19, we urge you to stay home and call Children’s Minnesota before coming to an emergency room or clinic, and know that we are ready to help if you do need to come in.


If your child is a patient of Children’s Minnesota (or a Children’s Health Network clinic), please call our free COVID-19 Nurse Line for assistance: 952-99-COVID (952-992-6843). If not, please call the MDH hotline at 651-201-3920.

COVID-19 testing

COVID-19 testing is available at most primary care clinics for:

  • Children with symptoms, who can be swab tested based on the provider’s recommendation at the office visit.
  • Children who had symptoms that resolved at least 14 days ago, who can get an antibody test (blood test). Schedule an in-person or virtual care visit with a provider first to confirm your child’s need for testing.

Call clinic to schedule appointment