Feeling Sick? COVID and Flu Cases are on the Rise. Here’s How to Spot the Difference

As the weather has turned cooler, COVID-19 and flu cases have increased, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health care experts advise getting vaccinated – possibly with both shots at the same time.

Early influenza cases suggest the flu virus is returning to a seasonal rhythm. Whether COVID-19 will be a seasonal virus that spreads mostly during the cold and flu season is still up for debate among scientists.

As the season for respiratory viruses intensifies and fewer people take precautions, the U.S. could see an increase in illnesses after Thanksgiving and into the holidays.

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are rising
In the U.S., there were 18,119 new COVID-19 hospital admissions during the week ending Nov. 18, a 9.7% increase from the week before, according to the CDC.

During that same time, hospitalizations related to COVID-19 jumped in a dozen states, and 15 others reported moderate increases.

Unable to view our graphics? Click here to see them.

Influenza increases gradually
Most areas of the U.S. are seeing a rise in seasonal influenza activity. South-central parts of the country, the Southeast, the mountain states and the West Coast regions are leading the way.

According to CDC estimates, this flu season has already resulted in 1.2 million illnesses, 12,000 hospital admissions and 740 deaths.

“We’re off to the races,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University.

Traditionally, the winter flu season ramps up in December or January. But it took off in October last year and has made a November entrance this year.

Tracking during flu season relies in part on reports of people with flu-like symptoms who go to doctors offices or hospitals. Many people with the flu are not tested, so their infections aren’t lab-confirmed. COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses can sometimes muddy the picture.

Alicia Budd, who leads the CDC’s flu surveillance team, said several indicators are showing “continued increases” in flu cases.

COVID-19 versus the flu: Know the symptoms
Because of the overlapping symptoms between influenza and COVID-19, physicians and health experts are urging that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated for the flu this year. One infection can make you more susceptible to others by weakening your immune system.

The flu and COVID-19 share several common symptoms. Here’s a look at how to differentiate the two viruses:

Six healthy habits to stay safe this season

  1. Get the COVID-19 and flu vaccines.
  2. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, not your hands, when sneezing or coughing.
  3. If you’re feeling symptoms developing, don’t go to work or school. This will prevent spreading the illness to others.
  4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you touch something that is contaminated with germs, it can easily spread disease.
  5. Clean and disinfect your home frequently, especially surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs or countertops.
  6. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Scrub for 20 seconds to remove harmful germs.