The influenza virus, also known as the flu, and the coronavirus / COVID-19 are both infectious respiratory diseases, and while the symptoms of both are similar, the two illnesses are brought about by different viruses. Learn more about the similarities and differences of the flu and COVID-19 below and find all of the up-to-date information on COVID-19 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
View our comparison chart showing the differences between COVID, allergies, cold and flu.
Similarities: COVID-19 and the Flu
- The flu and COVID-19 can both cause symptoms of fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
- Both illnesses can be mild or severe, even fatal in rare cases.
- Both can result in pneumonia, where you should seek medical assistance.
- The flu and the coronavirus can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person's cough, sneeze or talking.
- An infected person can go several days before their symptoms appear for either the flu or COVID-19.
- Antibiotics do not treat the flu or the coronavirus. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.
- Addressing symptoms like taking medicine to reduce a fever may help treat both the flu and COVID-19. Hospitalization may be required for severe cases.
To prevent both the flu and the coronavirus / COVID-19, put these practices in place: frequently, and thoroughly, wash your hands; cough into the crook of your elbow; stay home when sick; wear a mask when you go out and limit contact with people who are infected.
Get your flu shot!
Getting your flu vaccine is an important part of protecting your health and those around you from flu. It is more important than ever this flu season as influenza and COVID-19 circulate at the same time. The addition of another respiratory illness with the coronavirus pandemic could increase one’s risk of acquiring both diseases at once.
Differences: COVID-19 and the Flu
The coronavirus COVID-19 is caused by one virus, while the flu is caused by any of several different types and strains of influenza viruses.
Influenza is thought to be transmitted primary by droplets when a sick person sneezes or coughs out beads of moisture that contain the flu virus. COVID-19 may be spread through airborne means when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes, sings or talks (tiny droplets still in the air could cause disease in others even when the infected person has left the area). Respiratory droplets cause infection when they are inhaled or deposited on mucous membranes, such as the membranes that line the nose and mouth. An infected person can go several days before their symptoms appear for either the flu or COVID-19.
Antiviral medications can address symptoms and sometimes shorten the length of an illness. The antiviral medication Remdesivir is the only Food and Drug Administration-approved drug for the treatment of COVID-19. It is being used to treat certain patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Other antiviral drugs are also being tested to see if they might be effective against the virus.
Monoclonal Antibody Treatment
St. Luke’s recently opened outpatient infusion treatment clinics in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, offering patients with COVID-19 the monoclonal antibody treatment bamlanivimab, an experimental drug developed by Eli Lilly. Granted emergency authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, monoclonal antibodies block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells. Infusion has been found to be particularly effective in preventing the need for hospitalization in select, higher-risk patients including those who are 65 years of age or older and whose infection, identified early, does not yet require supplemental oxygen.
There is a vaccine available for the flu that effectively prevents and reduces the severity of the flu. In the United States, we do not yet have an authorized or approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19. However, significant progress has been made. Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in development with several in large-scale clinical trials. Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna are moving toward regulatory clearance for their vaccines.
To track cases globally, please visit Johns Hopkins.