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How Is the Flu Different From COVID-19?

​Both the flu (influenza) and COVID-19 will be spreading this fall and winter, especially among people who are not vaccinated. The two contagious respiratory viruses cause similar symptoms, so it can be hard to tell them apart.

Fortunately, we have annual vaccines to help prevent the flu for age 6 months and up. In addition, this flu season, we have COVID vaccines for anyone 5 years old and up. Make sure your child gets a flu shot if they haven't already, and their COVID-19 shot as soon as they are eligible.

Is it COVID-19 or the flu?

Because some of the symptoms of flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses are similar, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing to confirm a diagnosis. People can be infected with both flu and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time and have symptoms of both influenza and COVID-19.

Generally, however, flu symptoms show up about 1 to 4 days after being exposed to a sick person. Typically, a person experiences COVID-19 symptoms about 5 days after being exposed to someone who is sick, but symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after infection.

Common symptoms of BOTH Influenza and COVID-19

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue (tiredness)

  • Sore throat

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Muscle pain or body aches

  • Headache

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with COVID-19

Why a flu shot is important

Children can get seriously ill from the flu, especially if they did not get a flu shot. Typically, about 80% of children who die from flu are not vaccinated. That's why children 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine before the start of the flu season each year.

The flu shot can be given to children who are otherwise healthy and also children with underlying medical conditions. Children with certain medical conditions (heart or lung disease, obesity, diabetes, or sickle cell disease for example) can be at risk of more severe illness from both COVID-19 or flu.

Can the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine be given at the same time?

Yes, if your child is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, they can get it the same time they receive their flu shot this year.

Where is the best place to get the flu shot for my child?

The best place to get a flu shot is your pediatrician's office. During the visit, your child can get other vaccinations, if needed. Your child also can catch up on any routine care that you may have had to delay during the pandemic.

This flu season, you can choose between a flu shot and a nasal spray vaccine. Both protect against the four strains of the influenza virus (two A strains and two B strains) that are expected to cause most flu cases this season. Your pediatrician can help you decide which is best for your child.


Talk with your pediatrician if you have any questions about COVID-19 or the flu.

More Information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2021)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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