These 2 Symptoms Tell You Whether It's COVID-19 or the Flu

With a "twindemic" on the horizon, here's how you can tell the difference between the two illnesses.

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If you aren't familiar with the term "twindemic" yet, you will be soon. It's the new shorthand for the convergence of flu season in the fall and the current COVID-19 pandemic, and public health experts all seem to share the genuine concern that such a collision of health-related forces could result in a perfect storm that overwhelms an already burdened healthcare system. "We're going to be totally confused," University of Michigan School of Public Health epidemiologist Arnold Monto told The Washington Post.

Making matters worse, it can be difficult for even doctors to reliably tell the difference between the flu and the coronavirus due to their many overlapping symptoms. Thankfully, the CDC has weighed in on the matter, and clarified that there are at least two COVID-19 symptoms that are definitely not shared with the flu: the loss of smell and shortness of breath.

To be clear: If you have fever, fatigue, aches, and gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pains or diarrhea, it is possible that you could have the flu. (Though you should definitely seek medical attention, regardless.) If you have any of those and the loss of smell or a shortness of breath, it raises your chances that you have COVID-19.

sick man sits in bed with tea
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According to a European study of 417 people with mild to moderate cases of the disease, more than 85 percent of patients reported suffering from a loss of smell. According to a recent study published in the National Library of Medicine, half of the patients with severe cases of the illness will likely develop dyspnea—or a shortness of breath—about a week after the symptom start to arise. It's worth noting that a shortness of breath indicates a severe respiratory issue that might need supplemental oxygen therapy and even a ventilator. So if you're having trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

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But remember: While these two symptoms may help you distinguish between COVID-19 and the flu, they might not be enough for a definitive diagnosis. So if you note any of the symptoms, you should seek immediate medical help ASAP. And for a complete list of the signs of COVID you should know about, see this list of the 98 Longest-Lasting COVID Symptoms.

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