BJC and Saint Luke’s Officially Combine as BJC Health System

Fever, cough and fatigue. Is it the flu or something else?

With the flu season upon us — along with fall allergies and new strains of COVID-19 — it can be hard to tell all the symptoms apart.

Learn the differences among symptoms and why getting the flu vaccine can help keep you and those around you safe.  

Is it the flu?

The symptom checker outlines differences and similarities among flu, colds, COVID-19 and seasonal allergies.

 Symptom Checker Table

Flu & cold symptoms

While flu viruses can be found year-round, they typically circulate during the fall and winter. Although caused by different viruses, the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell them apart. 

In general, flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly compared with a cold, which comes on gradually. As opposed to colds, the flu can result in serious health problems, including pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations.

You can get a flu test within the first few days of experiencing symptoms to confirm you have the virus. Symptoms of flu include: 

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue (tiredness)

  • Vomiting and diarrhea for some people, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

Is it something else?

While flu is common this time of year, new strains of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies can make it difficult to figure out exactly what’s wrong.

People with COVID-19 can experience a range of symptoms, which can appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may be milder in people who have been vaccinated. 

Seasonal allergies triggered by airborne pollen can cause symptoms that affect the nose and sinuses, with congestion, runny nose, sneezing and itching; it can also create irritation, swelling or redness of the eyes. 

Because some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and seasonal allergies are similar, a COVID-19 test can confirm your diagnosis.

What to do about the flu? Get a flu shot

The flu vaccine protects you and the people around you, says John Paul Shoup, MD, a primary care physician with BJC Medical Group. 

“The vaccine offers substantial protection against influenza infections,” Shoup said. “Additionally, if you happen to get influenza after having the vaccine, you’re much less likely to have a severe infection that could lead to hospitalization or the need for breathing support on a ventilator.”

Shoup recommends that women who are pregnant or those who have recently given birth receive the flu shot.

“While someone is pregnant, they are at higher risk of having a severe infection,” he said. “The flu vaccine offers some additional protection for that individual and to their infant after delivery, because the protective antibodies that the mother develops during pregnancy are passed on to the infant.” 

Those with health conditions that predispose them to severe infections should also seriously consider the vaccine, Shoup says. 

“Patients with respiratory conditions such as asthma or an illness like diabetes can have increased risks for infections in immunocompromising conditions,” he said. 

How to access flu resources

There are several free flu shot clinics in the community that offer vaccines to individuals six months to 64 years old.  An alternative nasal spray option available to anyone two to 50 years old, although it’s most commonly offered to children. High doses vaccine is commonly used for patients 65 years or older.

Get care now

Whether you’re feeling symptoms of flu, cold, COVID-19 or seasonal allergies, BJC is here to help. 

  • Visit your nearest BJC Medical Group Convenient Care clinic for in-person treatment. 

Reserve a time

  • Schedule a virtual visit with a BJC provider.

BJC Virtual Care

Sign up for our newsletter and take charge of your whole health.

Stay ahead of the curve with exclusive content from BJC's health care professionals, delivered right to your inbox.