The Difference Between COVID 19 and Influenza


For children with COVID-19, rates of hospitalization, ICU admission, and ventilator use were similar to those of children with influenza, but with different rates  

According to Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Abdelaal, Consultant – Pediatrics at Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi, as winter approaches, distinguishing patients with COVID-19 from those with influenza will become a problem.

“Distinguishing COVID-19 from flu and other respiratory viral infections remains a challenge to clinicians. Although the patients with COVID-19 were more likely than patients with flu to report fever, gastrointestinal, and other clinical symptoms at the time of diagnosis, the two groups do have many overlapping clinical symptoms

What is the difference between Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19?

Influenza and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses . Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two.

Signs and Symptoms



Flu viruses can cause mild to severe illness, including common signs and symptoms 


Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19, different from flu, may include change in or loss of taste or smell.

How long symptoms appear after exposure and infection



Typically, a person develops symptoms anywhere from 1 to 4 days after infection.


Typically, a person develops symptoms 5 days after being infected, but symptoms can appear as early as 2 days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection and the time range can vary.

How long someone can spread the virus


Most people with flu are contagious for about 1 day before they show symptoms.

Older children and adults with flu appear to be most contagious during the initial 3-4 days of their illness but many remain contagious for about 7 days.

Infants and people with weakened immune systems can be contagious for even longer.


How long someone can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 is still under investigation.

People at High-Risk for Severe Illness


The risk of complications for healthy children is higher for flu compared to COVID-19. However, infants and children with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for both flu and COVID-19.



Both COVID-19 and flu can result in complications, including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (i.e. fluid in lungs)
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury (e.g. heart attacks and stroke)
  • Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, nervous system or diabetes)
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues
  • Secondary bacterial infections (i.e. infections that occur in people who have already been infected with flu or COVID-19)



Additional complications associated with COVID-19 can include:

  • Blood clots in the veins and arteries of the lungs, heart, legs or brain
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.


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