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The flu versus COVID-19: Why it’s important to know the difference in 2022!

Blog post | 26 Jul 2022

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 reported 24 hours, more than 50,000 COVID-19 cases were recorded across Australia.

Dr Nirvana Luckraj, Chief Medical Officer at healthdirect, says, "With COVID-19 continuing to circulate and cases still high, plus being in the midst of the 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.

There are 2 types of tests used to diagnose COVID-19: Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen tests (RATs).

However, PCR tests can test for COVID-19 as well as the flu. Some testing clinics are even using multi-virus PCR tests that pick up multiple respiratory illnesses in one sample — such as the flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

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

Understand the symptoms of COVID-19, the Flu and Colds table
Click here to download this infographic in PDF format

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

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 don’t need to be retested within a certain time frame after you leave isolation. Check the website of your state or territory’s health department for when you should get tested and follow the rules for close contacts.

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 PCR testing clinic or 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-19 and who is at greater risk of the flu.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

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. You may be eligible to get antiviral medicine to prevent becoming very sick.

Learn about mild to severe flu symptoms 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’re experiencing any severe symptoms call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

For more information

  • Contact your doctor. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you can book a telehealth appointment. This is when you speak to your doctor over the phone or online.
  • Call the National Coronavirus Helpline (1800 020 080) to get answers to questions about isolation, symptoms, restrictions, vaccines and testing. The Helpline is open 24 hours a day.

This post was originally published on 27 May 2022 and has been updated to include the most recent details on this topic.

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