News & Events

COVID-19 vs. Flu

Dealing with the novel coronavirus at the tail end of flu season, and in the thick of allergy season, has raised a lot of questions, concerns and confusion among people who think they may be affected. One of the most common questions the public has seen floating around in recent weeks since this whole thing started is: isn’t this disease a lot like the flu? 

The quick answer? No. 

Even though there are some overlapping symptoms, COVID-19 can cause more serious illness in some people.

This by no means should downplay the seriousness of the seasonal flu (it’s important to get vaccinated!), especially for the high risk population. Regardless, what are the major ways that COVID-19 differs from the seasonal flu?


Both COVID 19 and flu can have varying degrees of signs and symptoms  that are similar such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, tiredness, sore throat, headache, and muscles aches. COVID 19 can cause symptoms, like loss of taste or smell, that influenza does not cause.

Learn more about the difference in symptoms between COVID 19 and flu >


The speed of transmission is a major point of difference between the two viruses. In general, the flu has a shorter incubation period (the time from infection to appearance of symptoms) with an average of 2 days. Recent research shows that COVID-19, however, has an incubation period of around 5 days but can be anywhere from 1-14 days.

According to data from China, experts estimate that each person infected with the novel coronavirus infects between 2-3 others, which is twice as high as the seasonal flu. It’s also important for people to keep in mind – especially those who are young and healthy – that the coronavirus can be transmitted to others even if you are not presenting any symptoms.


Treatment options for COVID-19 and the flu are in general limited. While the flu has been around for 100+ years, this particular strain of the coronavirus was not even known to science prior to January 2020. The seasonal flu vaccine is widely available – and encouraged, and those infected with the flu are also sometimes prescribed an anti-viral medication to help with symptoms. Thanks to the hard work of many scientists we now have a safe and effective COVID 19 vaccine available in the US. If you are offered the COVID 19 vaccine we encourage you to get it. 

If you think you have symptoms above please call your primary care doctor. 


Updated February 2021
The above content is provided for educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. It is free for educational use. For information about your own health, contact your physician.