The important differences when treating and preventing the flu vs. COVID

Even for doctors, COVID-19 and influenza are difficult to tell apart. They're both dangerous respiratory diseases with similar symptoms - but there are a few important differences when it comes to treatment and prevention, according to Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Susan Rehm.

"One needs to have a test to be able to tell the difference and it's really important to have the test because there are treatments for influenza, prescription antiviral medications can be given for influenza," she said. 

Flu-specific antiviral medications can lessen the severity and shorten the duration of influenza. Dr. Rehm recommends calling your healthcare provider within the first day or two of illness for maximum impact with flu antivirals. Antivirals can also reduce the risk of flu complications, like pneumonia.

She noted that several antivirals are being studied for COVID-19 but they're not available for use at home.

Another difference between the flu and the coronavirus is that we have a vaccine to help prevent influenza. COVID-19 vaccines, of course, are currently being studied but aren't ready. 

Dr. Rehm says it's important to prevent what we can, especially during a pandemic, and encourages everyone to roll up their sleeves and get a flu shot.

"We know that hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized because of influenza and it is preventable with vaccine. Get the vaccine. It doesn't take long and that's one of the best things you can do to protect yourself."

When you look at the symptoms of the flu, it's fever, cough, sore throat and body aches, which is very similar to COVID and might be really tough to know which one you have, which is why the flu vaccine is being strongly encouraged. 

The CDC has worked with vaccine manufacturers to have extra flu vaccine available this flu season. As far as when to get vaccinated, the CDC is recommending right now.