At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everyone has experienced the panic and uncertainty that come with having mild COVID-like symptoms – such as a cough and sore throat – only to test negative day after day. With cold and flu season just around the corner, that state of frustrating uncertainty is likely to strike most of us again.
Both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that have similar symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish between the two viral infections without a lab test. Testing is the only way to know which virus is causing your symptoms. In fact, labs are working to create one test that can detect both COVID-19 and the flu.
As a nursing professor with experience in public health promotion, I am often asked about the differences between the flu and COVID-19. This year I am fielding many questions about the timing of getting the new COVID-19 booster and the flu shot and whether they can be given together.
Parsing the symptoms
Symptoms of both COVID-19 and the flu can range from mild – or no noticeable symptoms at all – to severe. While flu infection does not typically affect one’s ability to taste or smell, loss of taste or smell has been a common symptom associated with COVID-19 infection. Both infections can cause fevers, chills, body aches and fatigue. More severe symptoms of either infection include difficulty breathing and subsequent infections like pneumonia.
During the 2021-2022 flu season, the term “flurona” made its way into the COVID-19 vernacular. Flurona refers to a simultaneous infection with both the flu and COVID-19. While only a few cases of co-infections have been reported, it would not be surprising to see more of them this coming flu season. Vaccination for both the flu and COVID-19 is your best protection against both.