Both influenza and COVID-19, which is the illness caused by the coronavirus, are respiratory illnesses, so the symptoms will look similar, according to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

COVID-19 is caused by one virus, the novel 2019 coronavirus, now known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. Flu is caused by several different types of influenza viruses.

Coronavirus may be spread by droplets when someone who’s infected coughs or sneezes. It’s unclear exactly how contagious the virus is.

Symptoms of both include fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and occasionally vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. People who contract either one can end up with pneumonia, and severe cases can be fatal.

How can you tell whether you’re feeling rundown because of flu, COVID-19 or just plain allergies? Here are a few differences:

If you have sniffles, a runny nose or itchy eyes, that’s allergies or a cold.


Fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue or body aches are potential signs of flu or COVID-19. Consider the context, too: If you have these symptoms and have traveled or been in contact with someone who has recently traveled, been on a cruise ship or live near an area where an outbreak has occurred, it’s possible you are infected with the coronavirus. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after you’re exposed.

If you suspect this is the case, call your doctor, who can recommend whether you should be tested for coronavirus. Call ahead so she or he can be prepared, and make sure the doctor knows if you’ve traveled or had contact with someone who has.

While you can prevent flu by getting a flu shot – and it’s not too late to get one now – there is as yet no vaccine to protect against this coronavirus. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, not viruses, so they won’t help you here. You can treat the symptoms of COVID-19, such as reducing the fever, but in severe cases, people may need to be hospitalized.

The good news is that both the flu and COVID-19 can be prevented if you take simple precautions – and you probably already know what they are:

First and foremost, wash your hands – with soap if possible, or with hand sanitizer if soap isn’t immediately available. At least 20 seconds of hand-washing is recommended. If you’re using hand sanitizer, make sure it’s at least 60 percent alcohol. And the kind you drink doesn’t count.

Cough into your elbow, not your hand, which can transmit germs onto surfaces.


Don’t touch your mouth, eyes or nose.

Disinfect surfaces often, and don’t forget your cellphone when you’re cleaning.

Stay home if you’re feeling sick.

Limit your contact with people who may be infected.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask for protection unless a doctor has ordered you to.

Have more questions about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from coronavirus? Send questions to and we’ll try to answer them.

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