Explainer: Do I have influenza or coronavirus?

Monday March 16 2020

Dr Majid Twahir of Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi discusses symptoms of the coronavirus with Kenya Pipeline Company's Steven Bore (left) and Terry Mbae (right) of Executive Health Solutions during a briefing at the hospital on March 15, 2020. PHOTO | LINUS OMBETTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Is your nose feeling itchy? Do have a fever or an allergy?

And what could be the cause? Influenza or is it, just maybe, the coronavirus?

There are similarities and differences between coronavirus (Covid-19) and influenza, and the anxiety around this has definitely thrown many into a frenzy.

Typical symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue and, sometimes vomiting and diarrhoea, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some symptoms of influenza and the coronavirus are similar— a dry cough and fever.

But coronavirus more often causes shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing, a sign to seek immediate medical attention.


Influenza causes aches, fatigue, headache and chills, which appear less common with the coronavirus.


Influenza symptoms tend to be abrupt and worsen in a day or two.

With Covid-19, symptoms may be more gradual and may take several days to show and get worse.

If you are sneezing, or have a stuffy or runny nose, the good news is that you probably just have a garden-variety common cold— ironically, one possibly caused by a different virus.

Influenza symptoms often show suddenly and most people who get the flu recover in less than two weeks.

But in some people, influenza causes complications including pneumonia.


The World Health Organization (WHO) says because respiratory viruses cause similar symptoms, it can be difficult to differentiate them based on symptoms alone.

According to reports from nearly 56,000 laboratory-cases in China, people infected with the coronavirus develop symptoms such as a dry cough, shortness of breath and a sore throat, in addition to fever and aches.

A review study on the coronavirus, that was published on February 28 in the journal JAMA, shows that about 83 to 98 per cent of hospitalised patients developed a fever, 76 to 82 per cent a dry cough and 11to 44 per cent fatigue or muscle aches.

Other symptoms, including headache, sore throat, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, have been reported, but are less common.

If you are unable to understand your situation, you are advised to seek help from government emergency teams on standby and health experts.

Contact the Ministry of Health's emergency teams on hotlines 0729 471414 and 0732 353535