Coronavirus versus the Flu

February 25, 2020

woman with sore throat Denver Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) is now warning Americans to prepare for the possibility of coronavirus outbreaks in the United States, following weeks of an epidemic in China and clusters of infection in other countries around the world.

The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China last month, and has continued to spread around the world, including inside the U.S. So far, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Denver. Denver Health can evaluate any patients who come through our doors with symptoms of the virus and make sure those patients get isolated right away and then properly treated.

With coronavirus dominating the news headlines during the height of the much more common flu virus season, now is a good time to talk about some of the differences between the two and what you can do if you're feeling sick.

Identifying Symptoms of Coronavirus vs. Flu

Denver Health Medical Director of Infection Prevention Heather Young, MD said coronavirus has gotten a lot of international attention recently because it is a brand new strain of the virus that we haven't seen before that is closely related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Watch Denver Health Medical Director of Infection Prevention Heather Young, MD explain the differences between coronavirus and flu in this short video.
Dr. Young said the coronavirus can cause the following symptoms, many of which are similar to flu symptoms:
  • Common cold symptoms (ie-sneezing, congestion)
  • Fever
  • Cough (appears in 75 percent of patients)
  • Shortness of breath (appears in 50 percent of patients)
  • Body aches and fatigue (appears in 50 percent of patients)


How to Tell the Difference Between Coronavirus and Flu

With the symptoms of coronavirus so similar to flu symptoms, how can you tell the difference?

"If you're a patient who has a fever plus a cough, and you've recently been to China, then you should seek medical care immediately," Dr. Young said. Those patients will be evaluated for coronavirus at Denver Health. Coronavirus infection clusters have also now been identified in Iran, South Korea and Italy.

No matter what your symptoms, you can start by calling the Denver Health NurseLine at 303-739-1211. "They will be able to help determine whether you need to be seen in Urgent Care or the Emergency Department," added Dr. Young.

The coronavirus is very contagious, meaning it can be spread easily if you do not treat it right away.

"That's why it's important to get diagnosed so that we can get those people isolated so that they're not transmitting the virus to other people," according to Dr. Young.

Denver Health and Denver Public Health are working closely with city and state authorities to monitor the coronavirus. For the latest information, visit