If you’re feeling sick, you may wonder whether you have the flu. While your symptoms can provide some clues, the only way to know for sure is to get tested. That’s because common flu symptoms can overlap with symptoms of COVID-19 — or even the common cold. Having a clear diagnosis is an essential part of seeking prompt treatment.
Learn more about the common symptoms, testing options, potential treatments, and prevention.
Especially when cold-weather viruses are going around, it can be hard to tell whether you have the flu, COVID-19, or a cold. A May 2022 article from Health.com found that some people infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were experiencing symptoms that looked more like the common cold: coughing, sneezing, congestion.
For other people, though, COVID-19 symptoms are much more like flu symptoms. According to the CDC, common symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19 may include:
- Fever or chills.
- Body aches and pains.
- Shortness of breath.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Sore throat.
- Runny or stuffy nose.
People with the flu or COVID-19 may experience loss of taste or smell, although this is more common with COVID-19.
In order to get treated, you first have to get diagnosed; but with so many overlapping symptoms, diagnosis requires testing. Some pharmacies can run rapid tests for both the flu and COVID-19 — two illnesses that benefit from prompt treatment.
If your local pharmacy offers testing, this may be the quickest and easiest way to get an answer. Otherwise, call your doctor to find out the best way to get tested in your area.
Treating the flu
If you test positive for the flu, contact your doctor to see whether you should take one of the four antiviral treatments available for flu.
The CDC recommends antiviral treatment for people at higher risk of flu complications. This includes people who:
- Are 65+ years old, or younger than 2 years old.
- Have asthma or other lung diseases.
- Have diabetes.
- Have heart, kidney, or liver disease.
- Have a BMI of 40 or higher.
- Have a weakened immune system.
- Are pregnant.
- Live in nursing homes.
There are a number of other conditions that increase your risk of flu complications, so if you test positive, be sure to talk with a doctor.
The CDC reports that antiviral treatments work best when started within two days of symptom onset. For people at high risk of complications, these treatments can reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
The best prevention strategy is to get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19. Vaccination reduces your chances of developing an infection, and if you do get sick, being vaccinated helps prevent serious illness, complications, hospitalization, and death.
Practicing proper hand hygiene and staying away from people who are sick can also help protect you.