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Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19

November 28, 2022

What is the difference between Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19?

Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) first identified in 2019. Flu is caused by infection with a flu virus (influenza viruses).

From what we know, COVID-19 spreads more easily than flu. Efforts to maximize the proportion of people in the United States who are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines remain critical to reducing the risk of severe COVID-19 illness and death. More information is available about COVID-19 vaccines and how well they work.

Compared with flu, COVID-19 can cause more severe illness in some people. Compared to people with flu, people infected with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods of time.

You cannot tell the difference between flu and COVID-19 by the symptoms alone because they have some of the same signs and symptoms.  Specific testing is needed to tell what the illness is and to confirm a diagnosis. Having a medical professional administer a specific test that detects both flu and COVID-19 allows you to get diagnosed and treated for the specific virus you have more quickly. Getting treated early for COVID-19 and flu can reduce your risk of getting very sick. Testing can also reveal if someone has both flu and COVID-19 at the same time, although this is uncommon. People with flu and COVID-19 at the same time can have more severe disease than people with either flu or COVID-19 alone. Additionally, some people with COVID-19 may also be affected by post-COVID conditions (also known as long COVID).

We are learning more everyday about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. This page compares COVID-19 and flu, given the best available information to date.


Both COVID-19 and flu can have varying degrees of symptoms, ranging from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to severe symptoms. Common symptoms that COVID-19 and flu share include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more frequent in children with flu, but can occur in any age with COVID-19)
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19.


If a person has COVID-19, they could be contagious for a longer time than if they have flu.

  • People with flu virus infection are potentially contagious for about one day before they show symptoms. However, it is believed that flu is spread mainly by people who are symptomatic with flu virus infection.
  • Older children and adults with flu appear to be most contagious during the first 3-4 days of their illness, but some people might remain contagious for slightly longer periods.
  • Infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for even longer.


  • On average, people can begin spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 2-3 days before their symptoms begin, but infectiousness peaks one day before their symptoms begin.
  • People can also spread the virus that causes COVID-19 without experiencing any symptoms.
  • On average, people are considered contagious for about eight days after their symptoms began.

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CDC Reports Early Increases in Seasonal Flu Activity

November 14, 2022

CDC’s first full FluView report of the 2022-2023 flu season shows that while flu activity is relatively low overall, there are early increases happening in most of the country. Flu activity is highest and increasing the most in the southeast and south-central parts of the United States. This increased activity could signal an early start to flu season. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated each year, ideally by the end of October, but vaccination should continue as long as flu viruses may circulate. For people who live in a community where flu activity has already begun, there’s still time to be vaccinated. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although significant activity can last as late as May.

This week’s FluView report shows that the percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for flu nationally has reach 3.3%. The percent positive ranges from about 10% in HHS Region 4 (the southeast of the country) to 0.2% in the northwestern part of the country. In Region 6 (the south-central part of the country) 5% of specimens tested positive for flu, followed by Region 9 (the south-west of the country and Hawaii and Guam) at 4%.

The report also shows data from the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet) which tracks the percentage of people visiting outpatient health care providers or emergency departments for respiratory illness. Respiratory illness, also referred to as influenza-like illness (ILI), is defined as fever or couth or sore throat. ILI is already slightly above the national baseline of 2.5%. National and regional baselines indicate a statistically significant increase above the average percent of patient visits for ILI during weeks of low flu activity in previous seasons. This is a high level of ILI for this time of year and the first time that ILI has been above baseline at this time of year since the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.

It’s important to note that ILINet monitors symptoms of respiratory disease, not laboratory-confirmed flu, and will therefore capture respiratory illness visits due to infection with pathogens that can present with similar symptoms, including flu, the virus that causes COVID-19, and RSV. Other respiratory viruses are circulating at elevated levels in the United States at this time; therefore, it is important to evaluate data from ILINet and other symptom-based data in the context of other sources of surveillance data to obtain a complete and accurate picture of flu and other respiratory virus activity.

While the timing and severity of the upcoming flu season cannot be predicted, the United States has experienced little flu for the past two seasons. Reduced population immunity, particularly among young children who may never have had flu exposure or been vaccinated, could bring about a robust return of flu. CDC is particularly concerned about drops in flu vaccine coverage in the past two years among higher risk groups, including children and pregnant people. ILI visits at this time are highest among children 0-4 years, followed by people 5-24 years. Often flu activity first increases in children and then spreads to older age groups.

This week, CDC also reported three new pediatric deaths for the prior (2021-2022) flu season, bringing the season total to 43 pediatric deaths. This report further underscores the importance of vaccination among children. During most years, about 80% of pediatric flu deaths happen in children who have not been fully vaccinated.

More than 105 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States at this time. You can find a flu vaccine by visiting and entering your zip code.

To learn more, please visit

Flu Season

November 4, 2022

What’s New for 2022-2023

A few things are different for the 2022-2023 influenza (flu) season, including:

  • The composition of flu vaccines has been updated.
  • For the 2022-2023 flu season, there are three flu vaccines that are preferentially recommended for people 65 years and older. These are Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccineFlublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine and Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine.
  • The recommended timing of vaccination is similar to last season. For most people who need only one dose for the season, September and October are generally good times to get vaccinated. Vaccination in July and August is not recommended for most adults but can be considered for some groups. While ideally it’s recommended to get vaccinated by the end of October, it’s important to know that vaccination after October can still provide protection during the peak of flu season.
  • The age indication for the cell culture-based inactivated flu vaccine, Flucelvax Quadrivalent (ccIIV4), changed from 2 years and older to 6 months and older.
  • Pre-filled Afluria Quadrivalent flu shots for children are not expected to be available this season. However, children can receive this vaccine from a multidose vial at the recommended dose.

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