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COVID-19 and Influenza

Published on Jun 17, 2020 and last reviewed on Nov 27, 2021   -  5 min read


COVID-19 and influenza (flu) are both respiratory illnesses and can present with similar symptoms. Read the article to know the differences between these two infections.

COVID-19 and Influenza

Since the pandemic did hit us, new information is revolving around almost daily about the COVID-19. Although vaccines have been developed, the coronavirus is still considered a serious illness. It is considered more severe than influenza because of the lack of herd immunity, increased death rate, increased hospitalization, and increased need for ventilation support in COVID-19 patients.

Both of these illnesses cause cough, fever, and body pain, and can be fatal for older adults. The causative viruses spread through respiratory droplets from one person to another. On the surface, it looks like both these infections are similar, but COVID-19 is quite different from the flu.

A journal (the American Medical Association) stated that COVID-19 deaths are confirmed while flu deaths are estimated. It also stated that during April, the confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the US were approximately 15,000 per week, while that during the flu season is about 750. This clearly shows that COVID-19 deaths are 10 to 44 times more than influenza.

Many scientists are comparing this pandemic to the Spanish flu, as it had similar symptoms to COVID-19, and is also a viral respiratory illness.

What Is Influenza?

Influenza, otherwise called the flu, is a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs (respiratory system). It is a self-limiting infection for most, but for some, it can result in fatal complications.

The symptoms include:

The flu is caused by the Influenza virus (types A, B, and C). Large seasonal outbreaks are commonly caused by types A and B, and types C causes milder symptoms. When an infected individual sneezes or coughs, these viruses travel through the air in the respiratory droplets expelled by the person. Other people who inhale these droplets can get infected. Touching contaminated objects and then transferring them to the mouth, eyes, or nose can also spread this virus.

The following people are at a higher risk of developing complications of flu:

Influenza viruses constantly mutate and new strains appear regularly, which is why the annual influenza vaccines are not 100 % effective.

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 (CoronaVirus Disease 2019) is also a viral respiratory infection caused by the new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome COronaVirus 2). This virus belongs to the family called coronaviruses, which are also responsible for the common cold, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

The main symptoms include:

This virus also spreads from one person to another through infected droplets, which is why social distancing and good hand hygiene are important to stop the spread.

The following are some risk factors for developing fatal complications of COVID-19:

A number of vaccines have been developed against COVID-19. However, these vaccines only help in reducing the disease severity and none have been attributed to provide prevention from the disease.

What Are the Differences Between These Two Infections?

As you can see, the risk factors, symptoms, and transmission of both viruses are almost the same. The following are some differences:

Differences Between These Two Infections

The difference in symptoms:

difference in symptoms

The difference in treatment and vaccine:

treatment and vaccine

Antibody Production:

Before vaccination:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only a small portion of the global population (maybe as less as 2 to 3 %) appear to have antibodies in the blood, showing they have been infected with COVID-19. A study in the Netherlands, conducted on 7000 blood donors found that just 3 % had antibodies, which is up to 14 % in Germany and France. In Italy, it is below 10 %. In New York, it is about 25 %. This shows ill hopes for developing herd immunity after exiting from lockdown. How long the antibodies that developed after being infected with the new coronavirus can protect someone, is a burning question now.

After vaccination:

Once vaccinations were started, there were high hopes of ending the pandemic by developing herd immunity. Initially, the threshold for developing herd immunity was set at 60 to 70%. It has now been increased to 80 to 90%. Also, the huge difference between the percentage of population that has been vaccinated in different countries poses a great problem to achieve the threshold level of immunity. This shows ill hopes for developing herd immunity after exiting from lockdown.

Person with an influenza infection or immunization by influenza vaccine can develop antibodies against influenza, and it can give protection for at least six months.

How Can These Infections Be Prevented?

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the spread of influenza. Therefore, get your vaccination at your turn and in addition, do follow these preventive tips, which will also protect you from other respiratory infections:

  1. Do wear a mask when going out and make sure you have covered your nose and mouth properly. Also, discard the used masks properly to prevent cross-infection.

  2. Form a habit of washing your hands thoroughly and regularly.

  3. Do not touch your face (mouth, nose, or eyes) without washing your hands first.

  4. Maintain a minimum of 6 feet distance from a visibly ill person.

  5. Rest and stay home if you are feeling unwell.

  6. Work from home as much as possible.

  7. Do not go to overly crowded places or gatherings.

  8. Sneeze or cough while covering your nose and mouth with your arm or a tissue.


COVID-19 and flu have similar symptoms, but influenza occurs faster and symptoms vary, but COVID-19 more often leads to critical illness or death. As most people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, SARS-CoV-2 is spreading faster. Influenza commonly affects children and can result in severe complications, while COVID-19 has been seen to affect children less likely. As Influenza viruses have been around for a long time and with vaccines available, our bodies have some degree of immunity to fight even the new strains of this virus. Vaccination for COVID-19 has only started shortly and developing community immunity is in process.

With the ongoing pandemic already claiming thousands of lives, vaccination, practicing social distancing, and maintaining good personal and domestic hygiene are the only effective ways to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

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Last reviewed at:
27 Nov 2021  -  5 min read




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