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Difference between COVID-19 and Influenza

Which virus families cause COVID-19 and influenza?

Although both these communicable diseases have many common symptoms and are spread similarly, their causative agents are completely different. Nevertheless, you can observe the same in the following table.

Details of the causative agent



Virus family



Virus type


Human influenza A and B

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus, and yet much is unknown about it. The total number of coronavirus strains remain unknown at present. On the other hand, one of the flu virus strains, influenza A, already has 131 sub-strains detected to date. This is made possible due to the numerous subtypes of its NA and HA surface proteins which leads to a large number of combinations.

Since both COVID-19 and influenza are respiratory diseases caused by viruses, they are transmitted in a somewhat identical manner.


Read more about Coronavirus:

COVID-19 & influenza – Transmission

Now, there are plenty of similarities when it comes to the way each of these diseases spreads. Both are highly contagious and can be transmitted from person to person contact. However, there have been some recent significant transmission trends governing the difference between coronavirus and influenza.

Here, we present the similarities and contrast between the two in the following table.

Transmission factors



Mode of transmission

Droplet-borne through talking, coughing, and sneezing, Touching your face after touching a contaminated surface

Droplet-borne through talking, coughing, and sneezing, Touching your face after touching a contaminated surface

Maximum transmissible distance

6 feet

6 feet

Pre-symptomatic transmission

24-48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms

Within 3-5 days of infection

Incubation period

2-5 days, some patients can also remain asymptomatic for up to 14 days

1-3 days

Serial interval (the period between 2 successive cases)

5-6 days

3 days

Reproductive number



Commonly affected age groups

Adults (60+ years), individuals with underlying health conditions, individuals aged below 20 years are mostly asymptomatic carriers

Children (0-17 years), pregnant women, individuals with weak immunity or pre-existing ailments, the elderly

Attack rate

12.4% in adults aged 60+ years among households contacts

9.3% in children, 8.9% in adults aged 18-64 years, 3.9% in adults ages 65+ years

Mortality rate

First observed to be 3.4%, then decreased to 1.0%-0.9%

Less than 0.1%

Pandemic probability

SARS-CoV-2 has already caused a pandemic since it is new to our immune systems and has no existing treatment

Evolving zoonotic subtypes of influenza strains can lead to a new pandemic

Now that you know the subtle differences between the transmission processes of the novel coronavirus and influenza, it is time to look at the differences in signs and symptoms.

How to understand if your symptoms are of COVID-19 or influenza?

The acute similarity between symptoms of COVID-19 and influenza can often make it difficult for individuals to differentiate one from the other in the early stages. Unfortunately, this also reinforces the fact that there is no sure way to understand the difference between COVID-19 and influenza except medical diagnosis. However, here is a chart with a brief overview of the various possible symptoms and their severity in each disease.





Severe, dry, and persistent coughs that can cause shortness of breath

Mild, dry coughs


For 3-4 days

2-7 days

Breathing problem

Very prominent, can be severe

Mildly possible

Sore throat

Very prominent


Fatigue and weakness

Prominent gradually

Prominent from the beginning

Repeated shaking with chills



Muscle aches


Prominent, can be severe

Runny nose or blocked nasal passage






Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea



Brain fog



Unique symptoms

Sudden change in or lack of smell and taste, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) in children



Fatal Pneumonia, Microvascular thrombosis of the toes, Blood clots in arteries and veins of lungs, heart, or brain

Curable pneumonia

In addition to the complications mentioned above, there are certain common severities observed in both diseases. These are:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Cardiac arrest and stroke
  • Secondary bacterial infections
  • Sepsis
  • Aggravation of chronic medical conditions
  • Multi-organ failure

These complications can be further accelerated in patients with pre-existing medical conditions and often lead to fatalities, showing little to no response to treatment. Early diagnosis and understanding the difference between COVID and influenza can help greatly. Then, depending on your diagnosis, seek available treatment options from healthcare professionals.

Now that you know the answer to what is the difference between flu and Covid, let’s take a look at these conditions’ treatments.

What are the different treatment options available for COVID-19 and influenza?

Although influenza viruses have been around for a long while and SARS-CoV-2 is a brand new virus, both are constantly evolving as new strains, and sub-strains are detected. 

However, the major difference between the cure for COVID-19 and influenza is that the latter can be treated with already available FDA-approved medications and vaccines. 

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the novel coronavirus as scientists and doctors continue to treat critical patients with trial drugs.

Here are all the modes of treatment available for both diseases to date.

Treatment options



Antiviral drugs

Phase 3 trial drug , 1) Remdesivir

FDA-approved drugs Baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza) 1) Zanamivir (Relenza), 2) Peramivir (Rapivab), 3) Oseltamivir phosphate (Tamiflu)


Phase 3 trial vaccines - 1) Covishield, 2) Covaxin, 3) Pfizer, 4) Moderna, 5) Sputnik V

FDA-approved vaccines - 1) Inactivated influenza vaccines (IIV), 2) Live attenuated influenza vaccines (LAIV)


Convalescent plasma therapy


Besides the mentioned treatment options, supportive care is a must for both COVID-19 and influenza. This includes:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Getting enough rest
  • Taking additional medications for symptomatic treatment, as prescribed by professionals
  • Taking prescribed dietary supplements comprising essential nutrients
  • Mechanical ventilation for severely affected individuals

You know what they say, right? Prevention is better than cure.

Given the current scenario where the second wave of COVID-19 has hit hard amidst the flu season in India, it is best to practice the said precautionary measures. These include wearing a mask, observing physical distancing, and washing/sanitising your hands frequently. Despite the difference between COVID-19 and influenza, these little preventive measures can help protect you from both.

Is it important to get the flu shot during the ongoing pandemic?

Frequently Asked Questions