What is the difference between coronavirus and the flu?

flu vs coronavirus difference


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Incidences of the new coronavirus from out of China are spreading around the world, with China updating numbers of those infected and those who have died almost daily. At the same time, the flu season is almost upon us in Australia, with vaccines rolling out across all SmartClinics locations from early March.

In light of the upcoming flu season coinciding with growing incidences of the new coronavirus, we decided to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the new coronavirus, the flu, how they differ, and what steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

What do the flu and coronavirus have in common?

Both influenza and the coronavirus are viruses that can cause respiratory issues. Approximately 1% of flu cases are severe enough to be hospitalised, while the number for coronavirus is 14% (although this is data from China, where they are taking a very strong stance to prevent further spread of the virus). Many of the outward symptoms of the new coronavirus and the flu may be similar, however there are some differences that have been observed to date.

What are the differences in symptoms between the flu and coronavirus?

Understanding differences in symptoms between the two illnesses might help you understand exactly what you’re dealing with when you or a loved one becomes ill. Of course, we always recommend seeking a professional opinion when you’re sick.

There are many commonalities between coronavirus symptoms and flu symptoms. However, with so little known about the new coronavirus, it is extremely difficult to delineate differences that would help a layperson identify which illness they have without proper testing.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), common symptoms of coronavirus infection include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing difficulties

In severe cases, symptoms become more advanced:

  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Kidney failure pneumonia
  • Death

To highlight the difficulty of accurately describing coronavirus symptoms, around 5% of cases report a sore throat and runny nose, while a small percentage also report diarrhoea and vomiting.


Influenza has been widely researched and most Australians are probably already familiar with its symptoms. However, according to WHO, they can include:

  • Fever (often with abrupt onset)
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain

Still not sure?

Consider where you live and where you have been in the last 14 days. If you live in an area with very limited cases of known coronavirus, and you find yourself with a sore throat or a runny nose and some muscle pain, you are more likely to have the flu than coronavirus.

The likelihood that you have Coronavirus rather than the Flu really depends on the following factors:

  • If you have travelled to a ‘high-risk’ country. (As of 3 March 2020: China and Iran – to ‘do not travel’; South Korea, Japan, Italy and Mongolia – to ‘exercise a high degree of caution’.) Check updates here.
  • You have been in close contact with someone who has travelled to these countries, or has been diagnosed or suspected of having Coronavirus.

What to do if you suspect you have coronavirus or the flu

If you believe that you have coronavirus, book a doctor appointment BY PHONE, and make it clear when you’re booking your appointment that you are concerned you may have symptoms of coronavirus. Please do not book online. We’ll chat with you over the phone to book you in to see a GP, and ensure that you’re ok. If possible, wear a mask when you leave the house but try to stay home and rest to avoid spreading it further. Please practice good hygiene! Wash hands, cough into your elbow, throw away dirty tissues.

If you suspect that you have the flu, the same rules apply. Speak to a medical professional. Thankfully, we have the flu vaccine available to help people avoid contracting the flu. If you’d like to get your 2020 flu shot, please click here.

What’s more deadly – the coronavirus or the flu?

It is extremely difficult to form an adequate assessment of a novel coronavirus that hasn’t had time to settle into the human population. As a new disease, it is possible that it may have a higher death rate as few people will have a defence against it.

Generally speaking, approximately 0.05% of people who contract influenza will die from it. Some very rough estimates of coronavirus lethality put the death rate at 2%, approximately 40 times higher than that of the flu. However, there is very little value in such estimates at this stage of the disease’s progression and it is more likely to drop rather than increase, particularly as treatments improve and previously mild, undiagnosed cases are also counted.

How widespread is the coronavirus in Australia?

As of Wednesday, February 12th, there were 15 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Australia. Five of those people had recovered, while the other 10 were on their way to recovery. Efforts continue to prevent those with the illness entering the country or spreading it to others around them.

There is a very strong chance that the incidences of coronavirus in Australia will increase. This doesn’t mean that we’re facing a pandemic. It just means that a new disease with a long incubation period is likely to spread very easily in an interconnected world, particularly in a nation like Australia that shares a lot of air travel with affected counties such as China.

Is it safe to travel while the coronavirus spreads around the world?

Should I get the flu shot this year?