When cold weather months start approaching, most parents begin thinking about how they can protect their family from illness. Most years, the major concern is influenza (more commonly referred to as the flu); however, since the introduction of COVID-19, there are more signs and symptoms for parents to be on the lookout for.

Making things difficult is the fact that the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 can be very similar, so it can be difficult to tell them apart. It’s important to educate yourself on the differences between the flu and COVID-19 and the impact they can each have on your family. 

We’re breaking down how you can safely navigate flu season amidst the global pandemic so you can keep your family safe and healthy.

What’s the Difference Between the Flu and COVID-19?

Despite the fact that both the flu and COVID-19 are considered respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. 

Influenza viruses cause the flu, while SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus previously unidentified in humans, is responsible for COVID-19. 

Due to its short existence, healthcare professionals are still finding out how COVID-19 impacts people.

Are the Symptoms of COVID-19 Different from the Flu?

Both the flu and COVID-19 both have a wide range of symptoms, and both sets of symptoms can vary from mild to severe. However, there are some symptoms that are common between the flu and COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

These symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (this is more common in children than adults)

One differentiator between the flu and the coronavirus is a change in or loss of taste or smell, which is commonly reported among COVID-19 patients.

What’s even more confusing to many is that it is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, so you may experience symptoms for both. 

It’s important to keep an eye on your child’s symptoms and, if they begin showing any of the signs of illness listed above, take them into the doctor to be diagnosed.

How Do You Spread the Flu and COVID-19?

Did you know you can spread both the flu and COVID-19 even if you aren’t showing any symptoms? It’s thought that someone with COVID-19 is contagious longer than someone with the flu; however, researchers are still learning exactly what that time frame looks like.

Although both viruses are extremely contagious, COVID-19 is actually more contagious than the flu to specific populations and age groups. Both viruses can be spread in similar ways though.

Much in the same way you would protect yourself and your family from the flu, you should wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands regularly to prevent COVID-19. 

Fortunately, the flu vaccine has been out for years and is very effective in preventing the virus. The COVID-19 vaccine is much more recently released and it will take some time to determine what adjustments need to be made to make it as effective as possible.

Who Is Considered High Risk from the Flu and COVID-19?

It’s possible that the flu and COVID-19 can be deadly, especially for those who are considered high risk. The CDC states that older adults, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions (especially obesity and diabetes) are at the highest risk to develop severe illness from either virus.

According to research, children who are generally healthy have a great risk of severe illness from the flu over COVID-19. Children who suffer from underlying medical conditions run the risk of severe illness from both viruses.

Can You Prevent the Flu and COVID-19?

While there is no way to completely prevent either virus, there are steps you can take to greatly reduce your child’s risk of getting sick. It’s important that you and your family get the flu shot every year, but it’s especially critical now that COVID-19 is a concern. 

Although the flu vaccine isn’t effective in preventing COVID-19, it can help greatly minimize the number of influenza cases in the country. This will conserve precious medical resources and allow health care providers to focus their efforts on COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines are becoming more readily available; however, they are being released in a phased approach, and the vaccination is not yet approved for children. There are other efforts your family can take to help stop the spread of the coronavirus though. Make sure to teach your children how important it is to:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Wear a mask whenever you’re around others (for children 3 and older)
  • Try not to touch your face until you’ve washed your hands
  • Don’t get too close to people who are sick
  • Share your symptoms and how you’re feeling

What to Do If Your Child Gets Sick

Even though you can’t completely prevent your child from getting sick, especially if he or she is in daycare or school and exposed to other children daily, you can help fight the spread of the flu and COVID-19. As soon as your child is showing symptoms, go see a doctor who can provide a proper diagnosis.

If your child tests positive for the flu, you can help manage their symptoms by offering acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for children 6 months of age or older). Never give a child aspirin. The acetaminophen will help ease your child’s fever and help alleviate aches and pains. Once your child is fever-free for 24 hours, he or she can return to daycare or school.

If your child tests positive for the coronavirus, it is critical that you quarantine them for at least 10 days. In most cases, your child can be treated at home upon diagnosis similar to how you’d treat the flu. Once your child has quarantined for 10 days and is symptom-free, it’s safe for them to return to regular activities.

If your child is showing symptoms of the flu or COVID-19, consider visiting Medical City Children’s Urgent Care. We have four locations in the DFW area, and each of our clinics is staffed with qualified physicians ready to serve your family.

Be sure to utilize our Web Check-In® feature before your appointment so you can skip the waiting room. This is an especially great option if you’re concerned your child has the flu or COVID-19.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.