The flu versus COVID-19: Why it’s important to know the difference

 You’ve woken up and your head feels stuffy, your body aches and your throat is sore. Do you have the flu or COVID-19 or a combination? It’s the question that has people on edge now that the flu season has arrived.

Since April this year, the weekly number of confirmed flu cases passed the 5-year Australian average, and in the last 7 days, nearly 70,000 COVID-19 cases were reported across Australia.

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Dr Nirvana Luckraj, Chief Medical Officer at healthdirect, says, "With COVID-19 continuing to circulate and cases still high in some states, plus a predicted bad flu season, it’s quite possible that a person could have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time."

While COVID-19 and the flu are often mild diseases, they can be life-threatening for some.

How will I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?

Although different viruses cause flus and COVID-19, the diseases have some similar symptoms. To rule out COVID-19, you must get tested for it — no matter how mild your symptoms.

Testing can also tell if you have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, but you will need 2 different tests. At this time, a combined test for the flu and COVID-19 is not available in Australia.

Use this table to compare flu and COVID-19 symptoms.

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Is ‘flurona’ the same as the flu and COVID-19?

‘Flurona’ is a non-medical term coined to refer to having the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. The term that healthcare professionals use is ‘coinfection’. Those most at risk of coinfection include the elderly and people who are not vaccinated. So far in Australia, coinfection with the flu and COVID-19 is uncommon.

How can I protect myself from the flu or COVID-19?

The best way to protect yourself from the flu or COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. You should have a yearly flu jab before winter starts and keep up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations. But it’s never too late to get vaccinated.

Learn what it means to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations.

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19 or the flu?

If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, you must isolate and get tested. If your test result is positive, you must continue to isolate for at least 7 days — and until you no longer have symptoms.

If you have had COVID-19, you do not need to be retested within 12 weeks after you leave isolation.

If you have ruled out COVID-19 with a negative test result but think you have the flu, you should stay at home until your symptoms are gone or at least 24 hours after having a fever. Avoid close contact with other people.

You only need to get a flu test if the illness is severe or there is an increased risk of complications. Your doctor can test you or you can get tested at a COVID-19 GP respiratory clinic.

If you have concerns about your health or a chronic medical condition, you should see your doctor.

People most at risk of serious illness from the flu or COVID-19 should see their doctor too. Pregnant people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are most at risk of serious flu and COVID-19. People over 65 years are at the most risk of serious flu and people over 70 years are at most risk of serious COVID-19.

Learn more about chronic medical conditions when you have COVID or the flu.

How can I get relief from flu and COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have mild symptoms, you can usually manage your symptoms at home. You should rest, take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain and fevers, keep hydrated and take cough medicine if needed.

Learn about mild to severe flu and COVID-19 symptoms.

If your symptoms become worse, or if you have an underlying health condition or other risk factors, you should see your doctor.

If you are experiencing any severe symptoms call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.