For Immediate Release
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Influenza (the flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, meaning they affect your lungs and breathing, and can be spread to others. Although the symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu can look similar, the two illnesses are caused by different viruses.
Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., Senior Director of Infection Prevention at Johns Hopkins, explains how COVID-19 and the flu are similar and how they are different.
Similarities of COVID-19 and the Flu:
How It Spreads
In most cases, serious disease and death due to COVID-19 or the flu can be prevented by vaccines. In addition, mask-wearing, frequent and thorough hand washing, coughing into the crook of your elbow, staying home when sick, and limiting contact with people who are infected are effective safety precautions. Physical distancing also limits the spread of COVID-19 and flu in communities.
Differences between COVID-19 and the Flu:
COVID-19: Many people infected with the coronavirus do not feel sick or have only mild symptoms, but they can still transmit the coronavirus to other people. Most notable, COVID-19 can sometimes cause a person to suddenly lose their sense of smell (anosmia) or taste (ageusia).
Flu: The flu does not typically affect a person’s sense of smell or taste, but otherwise has many of the same symptoms of COVID-19. Rarely does an influenza strain cause people to lose their sense of taste or smell.
COVID-19: While different treatments may be used for COVID-19 and the flu, both are treated by addressing symptoms, such as reducing fever. Severe cases may require hospitalization and very ill patients may need a ventilator — a machine that helps them breathe. Monoclonal antibodies are one type of treatment for COVID-19, but this form of treatment must be initiated early in the course of the virus. Contact your doctor as soon as possible, after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, to see if you are eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment.
Flu: Oral antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, can address symptoms of the flu and sometimes shorten the duration of this illness.
COVID-19: The development of complications, including long-term damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain and other organs and a variety of long-lasting symptoms, is possible after a case of COVID-19. Flu: Influenza complications can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscles (myositis, rhabdomyolysis), and multi-organ failure. Secondary bacterial infections, particularly pneumonia, can occur following a bout of influenza infection.
COVID-19, Cold, and Flu Season Precautions:
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Download Media Release COVID-19 - October 14, 2021 (PDF)