COVID-19 and the flu: What are the differences?

Published Feb 10, 2021 • By Clémence Arnaud

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has raised many questions and anxieties. The similarity of symptoms between the flu and COVID-19 has long been a source of debate.

What are the differences between influenza viruses and COVID-19? How do you recognize the symptoms of the coronavirus? 

We explain it all in our article!

COVID-19 and the flu: What are the differences?

COVID and influenza, 2 distinct viruses:

The COVID-19 and influenza viruses are not from the same family. The former belongs to the coronavirus subfamily and the latter belongs to the influenza virus subfamily.

The influenza virus is a seasonal virus in temperate zones such as the US, meaning that it comes back every year at the same period, winter. The subtlety in this virus is that it mutates at random every year, allowing it to bypass the immune defenses that our bodies develop, and therefore infect people from one year to the next.

As for SARS-CoV-2, the recent appearance of variants shows that the virus is mutating to bypass immune defenses and adapt to the human body to remain infectious.

Both these viruses are transmitted via the respiratory tract and respiratory droplets: by coughing, speaking too closely to others, sneezing etc. One can also be infected by touching certain objects such as door handles, which is why it is important to wash your hands regularly and to avoid touching your face. These two pathologies can cause respiratory symptoms, but a few differences between them still remain.

>>> You can find more information about COVID-19's status as a respiratory illness in our Health Magazine article here <<<

COVID and the flu, different symptoms:

In addition to a difference in symptoms, there is also a difference in the time it take for these symptoms to appear. For the flu, symptoms appear quite suddenly with a rather short incubation time of 1 to 3 days. In cases of coronavirus, the first symptoms may appear 1 to 12 days after infection and appear staggered in time. 

Let's take some time to review various symptoms and see if they are specific to influenza or COVID-19:

editor_meta_bo_img_961e48f762f6d0df498df5ef404153f7.png Cough: This is a common symptom for both illnesses. It is a dry cough and not a wet cough in both pathologies.

editor_meta_bo_img_985ad69fb74378d81e51b893af394621.png Muscle and joint pain: Muscle soreness and fatigue can be felt in both pathologies.

editor_meta_bo_img_3ea1e47c87363e8f88194485d5797dc5.png Fatigue: Fatigue is also a symptom that can be found in both pathologies.

editor_meta_bo_img_d87ecf38cdbd36d730de0a10a07f6bba.png Fever, headaches and chills: Fever and headache are common symptoms of influenza and coronavirus. Chills, however, are more common with the flu than with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

editor_meta_bo_img_6d2552fe31901a492aff88e4ab180762.png editor_meta_bo_img_2c66e9be5a9cf3c8584ebc01c316fad3.png Loss of taste and/or smell: This is a characteristic symptom of the coronavirus and occurs in 30 to 50% of infected adults, with a higher prevalence in women.

However, please remain cautious, as the symptoms described above are not always experienced by COVID-19 patients. It is estimated that approximately 30 to 60% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2 have very few or no symptom at all. They are mostly young people or children under the age of 12. These are also the patients who tend to infect fewer people.

The coronavirus also seems to have long-term consequences in some patients. Long-term follow-up and monitoring of patients with Long COVID will be vital.


Despite several similarities between these two pathologies, COVID-19 is far more deadly than the seasonal flu. It is important to know how to make a distinction between symptoms of the coronavirus and the seasonal flu to be able to isolate oneself and thus protect those around you. 

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avatar Clémence Arnaud

Author: Clémence Arnaud, Digital Marketing Assistant

Clémence Arnaud is currently an intern in the digital marketing team. Her role is to lead and moderate the community so that users have the best possible experience on the platform. She is also be responsible for... >> Learn more


on 2/13/21

How did it start?  I had a tickle that was deep in my throat for about 3 days.  Wasn't a sore throat but I couldn't stop coughing.  Then my nose plugged up and nothing seemed to work.  The headaches started, and it was like a migraine...on an off.  Then the chills., and couldn't taste anything. That lasted for about 5 days.  Took a while to clear out my sinuses. Was hard sleeping with CPAP--I had to sleep with my mouth open, so of course, I didn't get much sleep.  I think it's different with each person.  Everyone at work got it, and some people were down for three weeks while others had few symptoms.

on 2/14/21

I have not heard of a single person who has had the flu this year. Very unusual.  I think that if people are sick that everyone just assumes it is COVID and not the flu. 

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