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Flu or COVID-19? Experts Say Incubation Period, Key Symptoms Will Help Tell The Difference

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) -- As flu season approaches, some may have a hard time discerning if their symptoms are due to the influenza or COVID-19.

Both are highly infectious respiratory illnesses. Dr. Jason Chirichigno with One Medical in Beverly Hills said the symptoms of both are very similar.

"We are talking fever, chills, muscle ache, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, runny eyes and runny nose," he said.

However, there is one key difference between the two. The incubation period for the flu is quick, about one to two days from exposure. With COVID-19, the incubation period can be anywhere from two days to two weeks.

"And one of the symptoms that we don't see with flu and we do see with COVID is the loss of sense of smell and taste that can be one of the big distinguishers," Dr. Chirichigno said.

Dr. Chirichigno said that early research has shown that COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu. However, during this flu season, if anyone comes down with a fever in the household, everyone should self-quarantine until the symptomatic person gets a negative coronavirus test.

And, Dr. Chirichigno added that "they are two separate virus strains that technically you can be infected with them both at the same time."

Doctors are hopeful this flu season will be mild, since more people are staying home, wearing masks, and social distancing. Still, everyone over the age of six months is encouraged to get a flu shot, and doctors worry they won't.

"I am not concerned about getting either," said one woman who spoke with CBSLA's Kristine Lazar. "If I get it, I will deal with, but as far as taking a vaccine, it's something I've never done [and am] never gonna do."

Anyone with symptoms should stay home for 10 days from the onset of symptoms and should be fever free for 24 hours without medication before being around others.

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