This GBCA Safety Toolbox Talk lays out the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and influenza (Updated November 11, 2020). Click below to download the Toolbox Talk as a handout (includes Sign-In Sheet).

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COVID-19 & Flu: Similarities and Differences

Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. Many of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, with a few key differences. This toolbox talk goes over some key similarities and differences between COVID-19 and flu. Three general points first:

  1. Because of the similarities between COVID-19 and flu, testing is usually needed to confirm a diagnosis of either COVID-19 or flu.
  2. It is possible to be infected with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.
  3. For more information on testing for COVID-19 or flu, or about the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine (when it becomes available), contact your medical provider.

 

What Are the Symptoms?

BOTH COVID-19 & FLU

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • *Asymptomatic – People can show no symptoms when infected with either COVID-19 or flu

COVID-19

  • New change in or loss of taste or smell
  • Recovery from COVID-19 symptoms is longer than flu (overall). Loss of taste or smell can last for weeks or months after recovery.

 

How Long Symptoms Appear After Exposure and Infection

BOTH COVID-19 & FLU

  • 1 or more days can pass between becoming infected and experiencing illness symptoms.

COVID-19

  • COVID-19 symptoms can take longer to develop than flu symptoms.
  • COVID-19 symptoms appear 2 to 14 days after infection, but typically, 5 days after infection.
  • Symptoms for COVID-19 appear later during infection and don’t peak until 5-7 days.

FLU

  • Typically, symptoms appear anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection.
  • Symptoms for flu appear and peak early. They are at their worst earlier during infection.

 

How Do the Viruses Spread?

BOTH COVID-19 & FLU

  • Both COVID-19 and flu may be spread by people who are not yet showing symptoms, who have very mild symptoms, or who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic).
  • Both can spread between people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet).
  • Both are spread when people with the illness cough, sneeze, or talk. Respiratory droplets can land on, or stay in the air and possibly be inhaled by people nearby.
  • Both can spread by physical human contact (e.g. shaking hands) or by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes.

COVID-19

  • COVID-19 is more contagious among certain populations and age groups than flu.
  • COVID-19 has more superspreading events than flu. COVID-19 can quickly and easily spread to a lot of people and result in more spreading as time progresses.

 

How Long Can Someone Spread the Virus?

BOTH COVID-19 & FLU

  • COVID-19 and flu can be spread for at least 1 day before experiencing any symptoms.

COVID-19

  • People can spread COVID-19 for about 2 days before symptoms appear and for at least 10 days after symptoms appear.
  • You can be contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, even if you are asymptomatic or symptoms go away.

FLU

  • Most people are contagious for about 1 day before symptoms appear.
  • Adults with flu are most contagious for the first 3 to 4 days of their illness, but may remain contagious for about 7 days.
  • Adults with weakened immune systems can be contagious for longer than 7 days.

 

Is There A Vaccine?

COVID-19

  • There is no FDA-approved, widely available vaccine to prevent COVID-19. There is also no FDA-approved treatment. (Nov. 11, 2020)
  • When a vaccine is available, get it. Once the vaccine is available, COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing and wearing face masks will still be in place for a period of time.

FLU

  • DA-approved, yearly flu vaccines protect against the 3 or 4 flu viruses that scientists anticipate will widely circulate the next year.
  • The flu shot can prevent flu, or reduce the severity of symptoms of any flu virus—even those not covered in that year’s flu shot.

 

For more information, visit the CDC’s website:

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