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Ask a Pharmacist: What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

Posted by Blooms The Chemist on 5 Apr 2024

Ask a Pharmacist: What’s the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

Influenza (commonly known as the flu) and COVID-19 share similar symptoms as both are viruses and can affect people of all ages. We explore the key differences between these two viruses and how you can stay healthy when you catch either one.

Flu vs COVID-19

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. There are two main types of human influenza viruses: A and B.

There are also many subtypes and strains. The flu is more serious than the common cold; severe cases can result in breathing difficulties and pneumonia.

The influenza virus contains two types of proteins. The combination of these proteins makes up flu viruses' different types (also known as 'strains').

Viruses also have antigens, which our bodies recognise and create an immune response to fight off the virus. However, influenza viruses evolve quickly, and gradual changes in the viral antigens are the reason for seasonal influenza epidemics.

That's why influenza vaccines must be formulated yearly to protect against different influenza stains that are most likely to circulate 1.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. It affects people of all ages, but older adults and people with certain medical conditions are at an increased risk of severe illness 2.

Both COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. Although they share similar symptoms, such as fever, cough, and body aches, different tests are needed to detect each one.

What are some key differences between the flu and COVID-19?

Even though they are both contagious respiratory illnesses, there are some key differences, which include 3:

  • COVID-19 spreads more quickly than the flu.
  • Compared to the flu, COVID-19 may cause more severe illnesses in some people and require hospitalisation from previously healthy people.
  • Compared to those who have the flu, people who are infected with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for more extended periods of time.

What are some similarities between the flu and COVID-19?

Now that we’ve outlined the differences, let’s go through some similarities, which include 3:

  • The symptoms. The flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, which include cough, muscle pain or body aches, and fever. However, some people may also have the flu or COVID-19 without symptoms.
  • How it spreads. The flu and COVID-19 can quickly spread from person to person near or close contact. Virus particles from sneezing, coughing, or talking can also spread them.
  • How severely it can affect you. Both the flu and COVID-19 can severely impact you, with some people experiencing pneumonia, respiratory failure, and multiple organ failure if they don’t get the treatment they need.

How can I protect myself against the flu and COVID-19?

Some healthy ways to protect yourself from viruses include washing your hands, staying home if you are sick, and keeping surfaces you regularly touch clean, like phones, door handles, and keyboards. You can learn more about protecting yourself from the flu here.

However, the most essential way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated 1 at your local Blooms The Chemist pharmacy. Vaccination is the best protection1 from getting viruses and can protect you against infectious diseases.

Visit your local Blooms The Chemist to stay well this Winter. Book your flu vaccination or COVID-19 booster here.

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1Victorian Department of Health, Influenza, accessed 22 March 2024

2Australian Department of Health and Aged Care, COVID-19, accessed 22 March 2024

3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What is the difference between Influenza (flu) and COVID-19? Accessed 22 March 2024

4Western Australian Department of Health, Protect yourself from viruses, accessed 22 March 2024