Do I have COVID or the flu? CDC says symptoms alone can’t tell

(KRON) — In the era of COVID-19, coming down with a cough or the sniffles is more anxiety-triggering than usual.

With unpleasant viruses spreading around, the first thing most people want to know is, how do I know I don’t have COVID?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of flu, COVID, and other respiratory illnesses are similar. So the bad news is, you can’t rule out COVID based on your symptoms alone.

“Testing is needed to tell what the illness is and to confirm a diagnosis,” the CDC wrote.

If you haven’t received a flu shot yet, now is the time, according to the CDC. It takes your body two weeks to develop antibodies to defend against the flu.

Scientists said this year’s flu season may be severe.

“Reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season,” the CDC wrote.

COVID vs. Flu


Common symptoms that COVID 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 and diarrhea
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell


Both COVID and flu can spread between people who are within six feet of each other. Both are spread mainly by particles containing virus that are expelled by coughs, sneezes, or talking.

“While the virus that causes COVID-19 and flu viruses are thought to spread in similar ways, the virus that causes COVID-19 is generally more contagious than flu viruses. Also, COVID-19 has been observed to have more superspreading events than flu,” the CDC wrote.

“Compared to flu, COVID-19 can cause more serious illnesses in some people. COVID-19 can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer,” the CDC wrote.


There are multiple FDA-licensed flu vaccines produced every year to protect people against viruses that scientists expect will most likely circulate.

Three COVID-19 vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — have been authorized for use by FDA under an EUA. Booster shots are also available for some demographic groups.

Influenza vaccines and COVID vaccines can be given at the same time.


Both COVID-19 and flu can result in serious complications, including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in the lungs)
  • Sepsis(a life-threatening illness caused by the body’s extreme response to an infection)
  • Cardiac injury (for example, heart attacks and stroke)
  • Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, or nervous system or diabetes)
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues
  • Secondary infections

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