This One "Wacky" Symptom Means You Have COVID, Not the Flu

According to experts, this symptom can reveal your true diagnosis between coronavirus and the flu.

With winter fast approaching, fears of a "twindemic" are growing among doctors and researchers. Not only could coronavirus and the flu overburden hospitals or even infect some patients simultaneously, but many people fear that if they get sick, they won't know the difference between the two illnesses. And, as The New York Times points out, that's a valid concern. "Most symptoms of the two diseases are so similar that, short of a test—or two or three tests—it won't be possible to know for sure," science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. wrote in a recent article. However, he explained, there are some signs and symptoms that could tip you off that you've got COVID, and not the flu. Chief among them? Loss of smell. Read on to learn more and for an update on where the virus is headed, find out How Fast COVID Is Spreading in Your State.

You're probably familiar with the symptoms of the flu: fever, fatigue, a sore throat, headaches, body aches, runny nose, and sneezing. Most often, the flu also presents with a bad cough. In more serious cases, it can progress to pneumonia, which can add shortness of breath and rapid breathing to that list of symptoms. Unfortunately, much of this closely mirrors the experience of having COVID-19, complicating a clear diagnosis.

That's why McNeil recommends looking for COVID's more "wacky" symptoms, which could offer insight into a person's condition. "The one sign that really distinguishes the two infections is that many COVID-19 victims suddenly lose their sense of smell—not because they have a stuffy nose, but because they don't register even strong odors like onions or coffee," explains McNeil.

In fact, in a new study published on Oct. 1, a team from University College London studied 590 patients in the U.K. who reported suddenly losing either their sense of smell or taste. The patients were then given coronavirus tests and 77.6 percent overall came back positive for COVID. Specifically, 80.4 percent of subjects reporting anosmia—AKA the loss of smell—and 77.7 percent of those who lost their sense of taste tested positive. That's why anosmia is the strongest indicator you have COVID before you even get tested.

In other words, if you haven't lost your sense of smell, don't make the assumption that you've got the flu, and not COVID. But if you have lost your sense of smell, you can fairly safely bet that you're dealing with coronavirus, and should take all the necessary precautions.

As we head into colder months, the key is to remember that this virus is very much still at large. Mask wearing, frequent hand washing, and social distancing are all essential strategies in fighting the novel coronavirus. But now, it's time to add one more thing to that arsenal: the flu shot. We may not be able to prevent coronavirus or the flu completely, but we can lower our risk significantly. Read on to learn more common symptoms of COVID, according to survivors, and for more on the most prominent case out there, This Is How Likely It Is That Trump Will Get Worse, Doctors Warn.

Sore throat

Young adult man suffering from sore throat

A self-organized group of coronavirus patients who've been discussing their symptoms in the Body Politic COVID-19 Support Group for months conducted a survey on the range of issues they were experiencing. The survey involved 640 presumed positive or proven positive COVID cases (though some tested negative) to identify the most common coronavirus symptoms out there. These are the top 10.

Patients who experienced a sore throat: 69.6 percent

Elevated temperature (between 98.8 and 100 degrees)

A blonde woman wearing a mask has her temperature taken on her forehead by a health care worker.

Patients who experienced an elevated temperature: 72.4 percent

Dry cough

Man coughing into hand

Patients who experienced a dry cough: 72.7 percent

And for more on this symptom, check out You Can Catch COVID-19 Even If Someone This Far From You Coughs.

Gastrointestinal issues

Black woman with stomach pain

Patients who experienced gastrointestinal issues: 74.6 percent

Chills or sweats

white woman sweating

Patients who experienced chills or sweats: 76.2 percent

And for more up-to-date information on COVID, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Body aches

young woman suffering from stomach cramps at home on couch

Patients who experienced body aches: 83.5 percent


asian man wearing a mask has a headache

Patients who experienced a headache: 84.0 percent

And for more on this common malady, check out This Common Ache May Be the Sign of a Worsening COVID Case, Study Says.

Shortness of breath

woman alone in house at night has hand on chest as she struggles to breath

Patients who experienced shortness of breath: 85.3 percent

Tightness in the chest

man in surgical mask grasping chest with breathing difficulties or asthma

Patients who experienced tightness in the chest: 87.1 percent


Fatigued man resting on couch

Patients who experienced fatigue: 98.4 percent

And for all the signs to look out for, here are These Are the 51 Most Common COVID Symptoms You Could Have.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more