Flu, COVID-19 and allergies: Tips to stay safe and healthy


Are you or a loved one feeling a bit under the weather? There are many different respiratory viruses out there, and symptoms can often overlap. Protect yourself and those around you by making note of your symptoms and taking proper precautions. Learn about the similarities and differences between COVID, flu, RSV, and allergies.

COVID symptoms often appear very similar to the flu, but there are some notable differences. The symptoms of COVID often take longer to develop and can be more severe. Loss of taste or smell may be an early indicator that you have COVID. Don't take the flu lightly, though. Symptoms can often develop quickly and can be serious.

Most children get RSV by the time they turn two, but you can get the virus at any age. While symptoms are mild for many, it can be very serious for high-risk individuals, especially infants who are born premature. Allergies can come in many different forms, and symptoms often occur after exposure to the allergen.

These are only a few of the many respiratory viruses out there. So how can you keep up and stay safe? Stay up to date on your recommended vaccinations, stay home and isolate yourself when you're symptomatic, practice proper hand hygiene and disinfect surfaces, and as always, contact your doctor if you are feeling sick or symptoms worsen.


Flu season is here once again. And many questions have formed over the last couple of years about how you can stay safe from both the influenza (flu) and COVID-19 viruses, as well as how to tell if your symptoms may be caused by seasonal allergies or a different virus instead.

Our infectious diseases experts are here to help address your concerns and offer up some key advice on how to stay safe this winter.

How can you tell if you have the flu, COVID-19, seasonal allergies or a different virus?

The best way to tell what kind of respiratory virus you have is to get tested. Symptoms can be nearly impossible to tell apart. This is especially true between COVID-19 and the flu, with the notable exception that some people with COVID-19 lose their sense of taste and smell. Add in the fact that people can have one of these two viruses without symptoms, and it’s basically impossible to tell one from the other on your own.

Testing determines the best treatment for your symptoms and how long you should stay home from work or school. The good news is that many healthcare providers who are doing coronavirus tests should be able to test you for the flu at the same time. There are many other viruses that can cause respiratory symptoms, so even if you test negative for COVID and flu, you should practice good respiratory hygiene: cover your cough, throw tissues away after use, wash your hands frequently.

Flu vs. COVID-19 Q&A

Does COVID-19 or influenza pose a greater risk for people this season?

Either virus can make you very sick or lead to death, which is why it’s essential to get vaccinated and also to avoid close contact with others when sick. There are definitely populations that are more at risk for severe complications from each infection. Older adults and people with chronic underlying health conditions seem to be much more likely to get severely ill with COVID-19. And kids, especially infants under 1, and pregnant women are more likely to have severe infections with influenza.

Can you get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time? What happens if you do?

Yes, there is a possibility that you can get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time since they are two different viruses. A pop culture name has emerged for this called ‘Flurona’, but that is not a scientific term.

We really don’t have a great answer to what that could look like, because it isn’t common. We do know that flu alone can make you miserable. We know that COVID-19 alone can make you miserable. It’s not an unreasonable assumption that the two of them together could make someone very, very sick.

Does having COVID-19 give you any antibodies against a respiratory virus like the flu?

Unfortunately not. Having one virus does not protect you from the other.

What steps can you take to avoid getting COVID-19 and the flu?

Many of the steps we take to protect ourselves from the coronavirus are the same things we need to do to keep us safe from influenza. The most important thing you can do to keep yourself and those around you safe from both viruses is to stay up-to-date on your COVID-19 and flu vaccinations.

You should get a flu shot even if you’ve already had the flu this season. The vaccine prevents against four different strains of the virus and we expect at least one more (Flu B) to be circulating later this season.

Practicing these good habits is also a great way to stay healthy:

  • If you’re feeling ill, keep your distance from others and avoid close contact with those who may have COVID-19 or the flu.
  • Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Cover your mouth when sneezing and keep from rubbing your eyes, mouth and nose.

Will the flu shot protect me against the coronavirus?

The flu shot can help prevent people from becoming sick from influenza but won’t provide specific protection against COVID-19. And the COVID-19 vaccine alone will not prevent you from getting the flu. It is strongly recommended that you receive both vaccines for maximum protection.

Can Tamiflu or the flu shot treat COVID-19?

Tamiflu or a flu shot will not directly treat or lessen the symptoms of COVID-19. But you can get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, which can help prevent an infection and lessen severity. And if you get sick with influenza or have been exposed to it, you can take antiviral medication like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to prevent getting sick.

COVID-19 treatment options are available and vary depending on the severity of your symptoms and health history. Antiviral treatments can help prevent the virus from spreading and avoid serious illness. Monoclonal antibodies boost your immune system’s ability to react to the virus.

What should you do if you develop influenza or COVID-19 symptoms?

If you have any symptoms, stay home, stay away from other people and try to isolate yourself to prevent the spread to others. Try to get tested within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms.

If it’s influenza, your healthcare provider can prescribe medication to help your symptoms improve faster.

If it’s COVID-19, your healthcare provider may recommend one of the treatment options referenced above.

Will the pneumonia vaccine protect me against the flu or COVID-19?

The pneumonia vaccine helps protect against a variety of bacteria that can cause bacterial pneumonia. The pneumonia vaccine won’t prevent flu or COVID-19, but it can help prevent complications that may come after.

Can I boost my immune systems to protect against flu or COVID-19?

We wish there were a list of things we could do to help our immune systems prevent us from getting sick with the flu or the coronavirus. But there’s no magic immune-boosting drug — only vaccination. Instead, focus on eating a healthy, varied diet and getting enough sleep. Also, make sure you’ve got any chronic medical conditions under control.

Can I do anything to decrease my chance of getting very sick if I’ve been exposed?

Once an exposure to COVID-19 has happened, there’s not a lot we can do to modify who gets sick from it. If you have been exposed to influenza, your physician may give you some medication like Relenza (zanamivir), Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Rapivab (peramivir) within 48 hours of exposure. However, the best thing you can do is focus on avoiding exposure.

Allison H. Bartlett, MD, MS

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS, specializes in the medical management of acute and chronic infectious diseases. She also is working to improve the safety and efficacy of antibiotic use in children.

Learn more about Dr. Bartlett