Coronavirus (COVID-19) vs. the Flu

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJune 29th, 2020

If you’re feeling under the weather, you may be wondering if you have the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), influenza (the flu), or another illness altogether. Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu share many similarities, so it’s important to know how to distinguish them. Of course, only a trained professional can provide an accurate diagnosis, so if you’re concerned that you might have coronavirus (COVID-19) or the flu, you should contact a qualified medical provider like DispatchHealth. We can let you know whether you need to be tested and provide you with advice on the next steps to take.

What Causes Each Virus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu are both respiratory viruses. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus, also referred to as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” or “SARS-CoV-2.” The flu, on the other hand, can be caused by a number of different types of the influenza virus.

How Is Each Virus Spread?

Both coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu can be spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even talks, even if that person hasn’t yet started experiencing any symptoms. Both viruses are able to survive on various surfaces for different amounts of time. However, unlike the flu, coronavirus (COVID-19) can also be spread by air even when the infected person has already left the area thanks to contagious droplets that remain in the air.

What Are the Symptoms of Each Virus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu can cause many of the same symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Chills and shaking
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Coughing
  • Congestion and sore throat (in some cases)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (in some cases)

Unlike the flu, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause a new loss of smell and/or taste. It’s also common for coronavirus (COVID-19) to cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, while it’s fairly rare for the flu to do so. Also, coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms tend to appear more gradually than flu symptoms—coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms can take as long as 14 days to appear, while flu symptoms usually appear within one to four days.

How Is Each Virus Treated?

Because coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu are both viruses, they have the potential to be treated using antiviral medication. With regard to the flu, not everyone requires antiviral medication, but in cases where these drugs are appropriate, they can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Antiviral medications are generally believed to be most effective for treating the flu when administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that they may still offer benefits even when given after that time period.

Researchers are still studying the effectiveness of antiviral medication and other treatment methods on coronavirus (COVID-19), and there still aren’t any antiviral drugs that have been approved to treat this disease. Many people with coronavirus (COVID-19) are able to treat their symptoms with at-home remedies—such as resting and taking over-the-counter medications—although more severe cases may require hospitalization. Certain symptoms require emergency treatment, including difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure within the chest, a bluish tint to the lips or face, confusion, and an inability to wake up or remain awake.

It’s important to note that neither coronavirus (COVID-19) nor the flu can be treated using antibiotics. That’s because antibiotics can only be used to treat bacterial infections—like strep throat—and not viruses like coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu.

At-Home Treatment for Coronavirus (COVID-19) & the Flu

DispatchHealth—a trusted alternative to traditional urgent care centers and emergency rooms—is pleased to offer at-home care for both coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu. We perform coronavirus (COVID-19) testing in cases where our providers deem it appropriate, such as for individuals who are experiencing a number of coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms and for those who are at an especially high risk. For patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) or the flu who don’t require hospitalization, we can provide whatever care you need within the comfort of your own home, whether that includes prescribing medication, administering IV fluids, or anything else.

COVID team with child patient

At DispatchHealth, we understand how important it is to prevent the spread of infection at this time, and we’ve taken the necessary precautions to protect our patients and our team. Our providers always wear protective eyewear, surgical masks, and gloves, and they also wear N95 respirator masks, gowns, and shoe covers when treating individuals with coronavirus (COVID-19) and/or respiratory symptoms. We also wipe down our kits and their contents and disinfect our cars before and after every visit and at every shift change, and we follow strict guidelines for entering and exiting patients’ homes and disposing of potentially hazardous materials.

Contact DispatchHealth today to request care—you can do so over the phone, online, or using our mobile app. We look forward to providing you with the first-rate treatment you deserve.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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