Flu and coronavirus can be different in kids — Here are the symptoms

With flu season upon us amid the coronavirus pandemic, parents with children feeling under the weather may find themselves confused and anxious about symptoms. Many symptoms of seasonal influenza and coronavirus/COVID-19 are the same.

COVID-19 and flu can cause:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache

One frequent symptom of COVID-19 that doesn’t usually come with flu is loss of sense of taste or smell.

Emergency warning signs of any viral infection include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face. The blue tone may be more apparent in the lips, gums, around the eyes and nails in those with dark skin.

If a child has these symptoms, contact a health care provider right away. It can be difficult to tell based solely on symptoms whether an illness is COVID-19 or flu. Confirmation needs to come from a nasopharyngeal swab test.

Who’s most at risk for COVID-19 and flu?

Anyone can get COVID-19 or the flu. Because flu and COVID-19 are two different diseases, it’s possible to have both at the same time.

While typically kids appear to get through COVID-19 more easily than adults, some children have become seriously ill and died. In addition, the flu can hit children under age 5 particularly hard, especially those younger than 2.

A flu shot is crucial

This year it’s more important than ever for children ages 6 months and older to get a flu shot or nasal flu vaccine. Even though the flu vaccine is not always 100% effective, it can lessen symptoms and help the child avoid severe illness or hospitalization. We don’t yet know how the two viruses contracted at the same time will affect a child, so taking any available preventive steps is crucial.

Reviewed by Kristina A. Bryant, M.D., hospital epidemiologist for Norton Children’s Hospital

Signs and Symptoms COVID-19 Cold Influenza Allergies
Symptom onset Abrupt Gradual Abrupt Abrupt
Fever Common Rare Usually; lasts 3 to 4 days No
Aches Sometimes Slight Usually; often severe No
Chills Common Uncommon Fairly common No
Fatigue, weakness Sometimes Sometimes Usually Sometimes
Sneezing Rare Common Sometimes Common
Stuffy nose Rare Common Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common Common No
Chest discomfort, cough Common Mild to moderate; hacking cough Common; can be severe Sometimes
Headache Sometimes Rare Common Sometimes
Extreme exhaustion Sometimes Never Common No
Shortness of breath When serious Rare Rare Sometimes
Runny nose Rare Common Sometimes Common
Diarrhea Sometimes No Sometimes No
New loss of taste or smell Common No No No


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