As many parts of the world gradually ease lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this article will better help us understand the different angles of the Coronavirus symptoms vs flu symptoms debate.
First, the fact that there are clear similarities between the Coronavirus and flu symptoms presents a source of grave concern to people living in regions of the world where there are seasonal flu outbreaks.
Someone down with the Coronavirus disease and showing symptoms may ponder on whether he is down with the flu or the symptoms he is experiencing may just be due to COVID-19.
A disease caused by a novel strain of the Coronavirus which was first discovered in the year 2019 in Wuhan, China, and within a few weeks spread like wildfire to the rest of the world.
Coronaviruses belong to a family of viruses responsible for varieties of respiratory diseases found in both mammals and birds. Some cause illnesses as mild as the common cold, while others may cause severe and deadly illnesses like the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). This family of viruses is however different from the Orthomyxoviridae family which is responsible for the flu.
A lot of people have been burdened with the nagging question; ‘how are COVID-19 and influenza viruses similar?’ Others have also asked; ‘how are COVID-19 and influenza viruses different?’ The fact is that when considering these viruses, the major things to study are their key similarities and differences.
Similarities between Coronavirus Symptoms and Flu Symptoms
As noted earlier, both COVID-19 (or Coronavirus Disease 2019), caused by a virus within the family of Coronaviruses, and Influenza has some similarities in the way their symptoms present. The two diseases affect the respiratory system.
They both present with respiratory symptoms like sore throat, cough, and catarrh. Other symptoms not specific to the respiratory system include fever, headache, diarrhea, and fatigue.
These similarities between Coronavirus symptoms and flu symptoms make it almost impossible to differentiate between the two clinically. Therefore, the way to differentiate them is via testing. This is why there is a strong emphasis on testing people with respiratory symptoms in other to determine the underlying cause of the ailment.
Strictly speaking, These viruses – similarities and even differences – are not the only things to consider between these diseases. Their modes of transmission are relevant to the debate.
They are both transmitted from person to person via direct contact with droplets produced while sneezing or coughing or indirectly from surfaces contaminated by the droplets.
One becomes exposed to both viruses if droplets from infected persons get to the eye, nose, or mouth. This could be directly, or indirectly like touching these parts of the body with hands that have been contaminated with the droplets. Another key similarity that is not well known is that they can both be transmitted through saliva droplets.
Despite these glaring similarities between the symptoms and modes of transmission of the Coronavirus disease and Influenza, it is important to note that these diseases are different in a lot of ways.
The other debate about Coronavirus symptoms vs cold, their similarities and difference, though relevant will not be discussed here. However, the common cold is very similar to mild flu.
Coronavirus Symptoms Vs Flu Symptoms – Differences
COVID-19 has higher transmission rates (it can easily spread from one person to another) and certain aspects of its mode of transmission slightly differ from the flu. Because a lot of people with the Coronavirus do not have symptoms and also because it easily spreads from person to person, it has been recommended that people should keep about 1.5 to 2 meters between themselves to limit the spread.
This is unlike what is obtained when it comes to Influenza. For people with the flu virus, most present with symptoms, hence, they can be easily identified and avoided. Controlling the spread of the flu does not require people to keep a social distance from everyone.
Another interesting thing about this discussion on these viruses – differences, is that, unlike COVID-19, the flu has been around for centuries. Therefore, many people have developed a level of immunity against it. Influenza has seasonal outbreaks in many parts of the world.
The virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic is new, hence there was no prior immunity for anyone before its advent. However, this will develop over time as a lot of people have been exposed.
A more subtle difference between these diseases not known by many is that people with the flu are more contagious on the first four days after they begin to show symptoms whereas, someone with Coronavirus Disease 2019 may display no symptoms at all and transmit the virus unaware to others.
People with COVID-19 remain very infectious until about 11 days of being ill when the chances of transferring the virus begin to decline. But the question; ‘how long do Coronavirus symptoms last’? has not been adequately answered.
Much is yet to be discovered regarding the novel Coronavirus causing COVID-19. Based on experts’ research, COVID-19 can be found in semen, but the implications of these findings are being looked into by researchers as it does not yet imply that the virus can be sexually transmitted. However, there is no such finding in Influenza.
Similarly, Coronavirus symptoms in kids seem to be very mild or absent, though it has been discovered that they can transmit it. While Influenza is highly fatal for children. It is worth mentioning that there are growing concerns about Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome.
PIMS is rare and has been noticed to develop in children who had been exposed to the novel Coronavirus. PIMS is an overreaction of the immune system (our body’s defense mechanism), it is usually severe and may be fatal.
Coronavirus symptoms in adults, e.g., shortness of breath, are very rare in kids. Also, the fatality rate among children of 0-9 years remains very low. There is still little evidence to buttress whether children who develop severe Coronavirus symptoms and had complications did so as a result of underlying illnesses or the disease.
According to findings, 23% of the children with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection have underlying health issues ranging from cardiovascular diseases, chronic lung diseases, and immunosuppressive diseases.
Facts presented by numerous experts reveal that Coronavirus symptoms in adults range from mild to severe, with those with chronic illnesses at higher risk. Those who come down with the seasonal flu and are suffering from chronic illnesses are also at higher risk of developing complications.
However, the death rates for both illnesses are not the same. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the data rate for COVID-19 as 0.2%, and the flu around 0.1%. This implies that the Coronavirus disease is more likely to kill than Influenza.
The first thing to note when it comes to the viruses discussion is the onset of these symptoms. For COVID-19, the onset is gradual. The illness progresses, with symptoms of COVID-19 unfolding one after the other. The flu however presents its symptoms abruptly.
While the incubation period for COVID-19 is longer, ranging from a period of two to fourteen days, people who develop the flu present with symptoms within a short time, between day one to four after exposure. Please see this Coronavirus anxiety article for further information.
Medical Interventions: Influenza Versus Coronavirus
What medical interventions are available for COVID-19 and influenza viruses? You might have heard of ‘the flu shot’. It is simply the flu vaccine. Influenza has been around long enough therefore a vaccine has been developed over time.
For COVID-19, the search for a potent vaccine is ongoing, but there is hope that one will soon come out. When it comes to treatment, there are well-established treatments for Influenza from mild to severe cases.
The treatment of mild to moderate Influenza is largely symptomatic or supportive. That is, treating the symptoms and keeping the person comfortable e.g. bed rest, rehydration, etc. Some moderate and severe cases may require the use of antivirals and more advanced supportive care like the use of ventilators.
The treatment for COVID-19 is similar. It is mostly based on relieving the symptoms and supporting the body’s system to recover. Ventilators are used in severe cases to support respiration. Presently, there is no universally accepted medication for its definitive treatment.
However, Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine have become popular with evidence from places to prove their efficacy. Other drugs, mainly antivirals have also been used. In all, trials are ongoing to arrive at a globally accepted drug.