How can you tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19?

WA STATE - We're now in cold and flu season and still dealing with COVID-19. If you do get sick, how do you tell the difference?

It is impossible to tell without a test. There is a lot of overlap with symptoms and signs between the flu and COVID-19.

"The only unique symptom for COVID-19 that we have not seen with influenza is the loss of the sense of taste or smell," Dr. Amy Person with the Benton-Franklin Health District said.

She said testing is going to be critical to determine who has the flu or COVID-19. She said you can be tested for both.

"We are recommending that if people are sick, that they get tested for both," Dr. Person said.

Both COVID-19 and the flu can frequently give someone a fever, cough, sore throat or muscle aches.

"In fact, we can see those signs and symptoms with many respiratory viruses that's what makes it so difficult to just diagnose any type of virus by symptoms and not with a test," Dr. Person said.

The flu and COVID-19 can both be spread by droplets.

"So, if somebody coughs or squeezes who's sick then their droplets, if it gets on someone else, can spread it," Dr. Person said.

Dr. Person said COVID-19 seems to be more infectious than the flu. She said it also seems to stay in the air a little longer which makes COVID-19 more of a problem.

"The good news is that everything we are asking people to do for COVID-19, wearing face coverings, staying six-feet apart, washing your hands and staying home when you are sick all of those things will also help prevent the spread of influenza," Dr. Person said.

COVID-19 also seems to have a bigger group of people possibly affected, but not showing symptoms. She said typically with the flu, you are infectious up to two days before you get sick, then you could get sick for three to seven days.

"COVID-19, you can be infectious for up to two days just before you develop symptoms. You may never develop symptoms and if you do develop symptoms, they often can last for up to ten days," Dr. Person said.

However, there is also a small group of people who show COVID-19 symptoms for weeks. She said the health department does not know if you can be infected with both viruses at the same time.

"Because COVID-19 occurred at the end of last year's flu season. We did not see many cases of people who were infected with both although we did see some," Dr. Person said.

Health officials will be watching both viruses closely to see if and how they interact with each other as this flu season starts to unfold.

There is not a COVID-19 vaccine yet, but Dr. Person said it is very crucial for people to still get a flu vaccine this year. For more information on the flu or COVID-19, you can visit their website at

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