By: Shivika Sharma
November 15 2021
Both are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is more contagious and can cause more severe symptoms.
A post equating influenza (flu) and COVID-19 has been viewed over 20,000 times on Facebook. This claim has been made many times by COVID-19 skeptics and has consistently been found to be false. While the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus first identified in late 2019, while the flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. The flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses have similar symptoms such as a fever, a cough, a sore throat, and congestion, but this doesn’t mean that the illnesses are "twins." According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “Compared to flu, COVID-19 can cause more serious illnesses in some people. COVID-19 can also take longer to show symptoms and can be contagious for longer.” Typically, a person experiences flu symptoms anywhere from one to four days after infection. A person experiences symptoms of COVID-19 about five days after being infected, but symptoms can appear anywhere between two and five days after infection. Furthermore, the CDC advises “While the virus that causes COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread in similar ways, the virus that causes COVID-19 is generally more contagious than flu viruses. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreader events than flu. This means the virus that causes COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people and result in continual spreading among people as time progresses. The CDC explains that based on prevailing evidence, COVID-19 seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people compared to the flu. Serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization and death can occur even in healthy people. Some people that had COVID-19 can also go on to develop post-COVD conditions or multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS). Furthermore, deaths caused by COVID-19 are higher than deaths caused by the flu. Dr. Mark Meeker of OSF Healthcare was quoted saying an estimated 28,000 Americans died from influenza during the 2018-19 flu season. That’s about 14 percent of the number who died during the first six months of the pandemic. “The 2019-2020 influenza season was like no other in recent history, with very few cases, likely as a result of all the COVID precautions put in place,” Dr. Meeker said. The treatments and vaccines for both illnesses also vary. World Health Organization (WHO) advises that the treatment options in use for COVID-19 at medical facilities include oxygen, corticosteroids, and IL6 receptor blockers for severely ill patients. Treatment for people with severe respiratory illness includes advanced respiratory support such as the use of ventilators. Several other treatment options for COVID-19 are currently in clinical trials. Whereas antiviral drugs for influenza can reduce severe complications and death, and are especially important for high-risk groups, vaccines developed for COVID-19 do not protect against influenza, and similarly, the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19. As seen above, equating the two illnesses does nobody any favors. It is important that we are able to arm ourselves with the right knowledge to make informed decisions and ensure our safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.