Seasonal flu or COVID-19: How do you tell the difference?

Covid-19 looks a lot like the flu virus, in its first manifestations. Hence the danger of confusing infection with patients’ anxiety.

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TheThe two viruses are similar, explains Jean Roel, a professor and researcher at the Center for Medical Microbiology. Covid-19 and seasonal influenza are similar viruses but can be distinguished in several ways.

common points

Both viruses can evolve and adapt to new hosts very quickly.

Symptoms in humans are similar. We find fever, cough, breathing difficulties and muscle aches. These symptoms are the most common, but they are not very specific.

Viruses are transmitted in the same way: by air transport, by direct contact. This is done by coughing and sneezing which results in small droplets containing the virus. Dirty hands are also a medium of transmission, as they contain virus particles.

The most vulnerable people are the elderly, over the age of 60, 75 or 80. Then, these are patients with chronic diseases, whose immunity can be damaged by infection with influenza or covid-19. Younger people can also have more or less severe symptoms, but they rarely need hospitalization than older people.


Influenza and covid-19 belong to two different viral families. SARS-CoV-2 is part of the Coronavirus family. The influenza viruses that cause influenza are part of the Orthomyxoviridae family.

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There is no medication available for covid-19, while there are antivirals for influenza. The use is precautionary and can be done in the event of an epidemic.

Influenza can be prevented with a vaccine that is reviewed annually, depending on whether or not new strains of the disease emerge.

In early October, Stephen van Gucht, a virologist and government spokesperson for the fight against the coronavirus, gave an indication of differentiating between COVID-19 and the common cold. One symptom remains a good sign: loss of taste and/or smell. At this point, it is recommended to take the test. These symptoms are more similar to the coronavirus than a common cold.


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