While new outbreaks of COVID-19 show up on a daily level, some are panicking, and others keep comparing it to seasonal flu. But are they that similar? And why are we not panicking and isolating ourselves every year when the flu strikes? Also, since the outbreak of Coronavirus occurred at the time of the flu season, a lot of people are confused and cannot really tell which problem they are facing. More than 190,000 people are infected by COVID-19, but when we compare those numbers to flu, flu actually infected many more people and caused around 20,000 deaths just this season. So, what’s the catch?

What Do We Know so Far?

Flu viruses have been around for ages, and scientists have been studying them for decades. Although a lot of people die from the flu, we still have a fair amount of information about it, and a lot of people can overcome it without any significant consequences. On the other hand, Coronavirus is still new, and we don’t know a lot about it. It spreads so fast, and since it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop, no one can predict how many people are infected. Scientists know that no matter how severe a flu season might be, it will all be gone once we reach March and April. Also, since the flu has been around, numbers of infected and those with fatal consequences are predictable and expected.

Are Symptoms the Same?

There are two types of seasonal flu, influenza types A and B. These contagious viruses are the cause of respiratory illnesses, just like COVID-19. So, although at first glance, they act similarly, cause similar symptoms and illnesses, there are some differences, so let’s take a look at them.

Flu symptoms can come suddenly, but most people who experience them are able to recover fully in less than two weeks. In some cases, flu can lead to pneumonia and other health complications. Around 1% of people in the US get hospitalized due to the flu every season. Typical symptoms of seasonal flu include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Aches in muscles
  • Stuffy or runny nose

While in the case of flu, doctors already know and can predict how the entire process will go, with COVID-19, no one can exactly tell because scientists are still trying to understand everything. Symptoms in patients with COVID-19 also vary from mild to severe and mainly include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle aches

How the Virus Spreads

When scientists want to determine how the virus spreads, they use the basic reproduction number (R0). This shows them the number of people who can catch the virus from a single person. For the flu, the R0 value is around 1.3. While we still don’t have the official data for Coronavirus, preliminary estimations show that R0 might be between 2 and 3. Meaning that a person infected with COVID-19 can, on average, spread the virus to another 2 to 3 people. Keep in mind that in situations like this, R0 values change much faster, and they are currently not the same for every country.

Read More: Are you suffering from the common cold or flu?

Risk of Infection

When it comes to flu, around 8% of the entire US population catches some type of seasonal flu. Currently, in the US, there are more than 1,500 confirmed cases and over 40 deaths, but the numbers are going to keep rising in the upcoming days. No one can predict how the situation with COVID-19 will unfold in the US, but if we take a look at what is going in countries like Italy, Spain, or Iran, the reality is that we might expect the same scenario.

What are Pandemics?

Seasonal flu is not the same as the pandemic flu. The last time the pandemic was announced was in 2009 when the swine flu killed between 150,000 and 570,000 people across the globe. On March 12th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that due to the rapid escalation of COVID-19, they are going to announce that COVID-19 can be characterized as pandemics. Pandemics are announced when there is a global outbreak of a new virus. And since the virus is new, there is little to no immunity against it, which is why it spreads so fast all over the world.

How Can We Prevent the Virus?


The most significant difference between the Coronavirus and the flu is the fact that there is a vaccine for the flu. A flu shot takes two weeks to develop antibodies that will protect you from the virus, so you can prevent regular flu, but not Coronavirus. Although there are so many ongoing vaccine trials trying to develop COVID-19 antibodies, there is still no vaccine for COVID-19, and we cannot expect it anytime soon. So far, the best thing we can do is to self-isolate, avoid crowded places, wash our hands regularly, and call the doctor if we notice any symptoms of COVID-19.