October 22, 2020

COVID-19 and flu season: How to stay healthy and protect yourself

By Farhana Uddin

Is all the talk about the “twindemic” making you nervous? Here’s what you need to know about the differences between COVID-19 and influenza. Plus, find out how you can protect yourself and those around you from getting sick. 

With both the second wave of COVID-19 and flu season well underway, you may be feeling as worried or concerned as you were when the pandemic first hit.

So what can you do to stay calm, prepared and alert right now? You can:

  • know the differences between COVID-19 and the flu,
  • get a clear understanding of your risk level,
  • practice some simple healthy habits and
  • look to trusted sources for advice.

To start, here’s a quick breakdown of the similarities and differences between COVID-19 and the common flu.

What’s the difference between COVID-19 and influenza (flu)? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 the flu are both contagious respiratory illnesses. But they’re caused by different viruses.

COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus* and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

(*Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses. These viruses can cause various illnesses, ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.)

The CDC adds that COVID-19 may spread more easily than flu and causes more serious illnesses in some people, such as:

  • seniors or older adults,
  • people with pre-existing health conditions and
  • pregnant people.

It can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer. Plus, it’s also important to note that there’s a vaccine to protect against flu. But there’s currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of the latest coronavirus or COVID-19?

COVID-19 and the flu can have similar symptoms, but there are a few differences to note.



Influenza (Flu)

What are the symptoms?

  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • sore throat
  • congestion or runny nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

(*Please note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.)

When do symptoms start?

Usually, it takes five days after being infected. But symptoms can appear as early as two days after infection or as late as 14 days after infection. And, the time range can vary.

Usually anywhere from one to four days after infection.


Please note that the information in this chart is sourced from the following CDC pages:

What about the common cold? The CDC states that colds are often milder than flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. And unlike the flu or COVID-19, colds usually don’t result in serious health problems.

How to protect yourself from COVID-19 and the flu

It can be challenging to cope with flu season while the pandemic is still ongoing. But you can stay calm, healthy and prepared with these simple tips from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of Canada:

1. Wash your hands regularly

Wash your hands regularly, using this step-by-step hand-washing technique.

2. Wear a face mask

The Government of Canada recommends wearing a mask or facial covering whenever you can’t maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others. This is particularly in the case of crowded public settings, such as:

  • stores,
  • shopping areas and
  • public transportation.

Remember that the rules around wearing a mask use go beyond the federal government's recommendation. Requirements may even vary by region, province or territory. Visit your provincial or territorial government’s website for information.

3. Clean your surroundings

Try to maintain a clean living space. Use disinfecting wipes on tables, kitchen surfaces, desks, telephones and anything else you frequently touch.

4. Keep away from common areas when you can

Avoid touching commonly shared surfaces such as washroom doorknobs, kitchen counters or stair railings as much as possible.

5. Don’t touch your face with unclean hands

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth whenever possible.

The WHO states that hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and infect you. 

6. Cancel your non-essential travel plans

The PHAC suggests looking at travel advisories on travel.gc.ca. They also recommend that travellers avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice.

7. Stay at home as much as possible

Canadians are urged to limit close contact with others, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. This means practicing physical or social distancing by:

  • avoiding non-essential gatherings,
  • avoiding greetings such as handshakes,
  • limiting contact with higher risk individuals like older adults or those in poor health, and
  • keeping roughly 2 metres of distance from others, as much as possible.

8. Work from home or don’t go to work if you feel sick

Your employer must provide clear policies and procedures for global health events like COVID-19. If you’re unaware of what these policies are or if they haven’t provided any, ask for them.

Some employers may insist that you work from home throughout this pandemic. Or, they may ask you to stay at home or work from home if you’re feeling sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu.

Consult your HR department for more info.

9. Call your doctor or qualified health professional

Do you feel concerned about any cold and flu symptoms you’re experiencing? Call your doctor or public health authority ahead of time. Let them know what’s happening. They can tell you what to do next and decide if you need hospital care.

10. Get your flu shot

There’s no vaccine yet for COVID-19, but there’s still one for influenza.

Health experts at the WHO and the Government of Canada recommend getting a flu shot. Why? Because it can help:

  • prevent you from getting very sick and
  • protect the people close to you (by making you less likely to spread the virus).

Keep in mind that the flu shot does not increase the risk of COVID-19, the flu or other noninfluenza respiratory viruses.

Talk to your doctor about how to get a flu shot this season.

11. Don’t panic and get accurate information

Hearing about the second wave of COVID-19 coupled with the flu season in the news can feel daunting. But try not to panic. Think of it in the same you would a bad weather situation. In case it happens, you want to be prepared and alert. This means looking to trusted sources for advice on what to do if an outbreak happens in your community.

We recommend visiting the following sites for the latest updates on COVID-19:

Help limit the spread of COVID-19 with the COVID Alert app from the Government of Canada. Download it today.


This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.

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