Dr. Volker Eissing peers into the throat of a patient while checking for flu and also to take a throat swab sample for coronavirus testing at his temporary office in Papenburg, Germany. David Hecker/Getty Images
There's significant potential for a 2020 "twindemic" as flu season looms and the COVID-19 pandemic continues. So, this fall and winter when you feel those sniffles and a scratchy throat start to come on it's going to be only natural to wonder what ails you: influenza or COVID-19? Not to mention, what do you do about it?
The distinction is important, because although both are highly contagious respiratory diseases that are potentially dangerous, they are handled differently. A positive COVID-19 test requires a person to isolate at home for 10 days after the test was initially taken or onset of symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (People with severe COVID-19 cases or who are immunocompromised may have to isolate even longer, up to 20 days, depending on their doctors' advice.) This is a significant difference from influenza, where people can go back out in public once they've been fever-free without the use of fever-reducing medication for 24 hours. This can obviously affect when a person is cleared to return to work, school or sports.
The mortality rates for both diseases are very different too. For COVID-19, it is 3-4 percent, while for seasonal influenza, the rate is less than 0.1 percent, according to the World Health Organization, which notes that 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild or asymptomatic. Read more >>