Watch CBS News

Coronavirus Vs. Flu: A Look At The Differences And Similarities Between The Diseases

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As anxiety about the coronavirus grows, many more people across the country are fighting the flu. Medical experts are breaking down the difference between the two viruses and why we should keep a much closer eye on the coronavirus.

"The flu, as bad as it is, as deadly as it is, come rain or shine, the season will go down and it's gonna stop. There's a flu vaccine. There's treatment, like Tamiflu," said CBS News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. "With the coronavirus, it's a new, novel coronavirus, so come warm weather we don't know what's going to happen. It may die down, it may not. There's no vaccine, no treatment."

Importantly, he said, people generally carry "a little bit of immunity" from past flu seasons into the current one — but that's impossible with the new coronavirus because we've never been exposed to it before.

For people wondering how to tell the difference between symptoms of COVID-19 and the common flu, he warns they can be very similar.

"They can overlap," he said.

Flu symptoms, specifically high fever, cough and shortness of breath, can also be seen in coronavirus patients, which is why "tests are so important."

"As we do more testing, you may likely see the numbers [of coronavirus cases] really dramatically rise in the United States," LaPook cautioned. "On the one hand, we don't want to see it widespread, but it's very possible that's what's going on."

On the other hand, he added, a larger number of confirmed cases means the mortality rate is likely to fall, because many of the cases would not be severe.

"Don't be rattled by the higher numbers," he reassured.

When asked about the current death rate, LaPook said it was too early to make definitive conclusions. While some hard-hit countries have reported a mortality rate of 2% or higher, he noted that South Korea's death rate is much lower, less than 1%, after having tested nearly 200,000 people.

"I think a lot has to do with how extensive the testing is and where they're catching the people. If ... you're not doing a lot of testing, and you catch them when they come in when they're sick, the mortality rate is going to be higher," he said. "If, as appears to be happening in South Korea, you're testing hundreds of thousands of people and you're getting them when their symptoms are very, very low or maybe they don't even have symptoms, mortality rate is going to be much lower."

According to the CDC, about 20,000 Americans have died of the flu this season, including 136 children.

In all, the CDC estimates about 34 million people have gotten the flu so far this season and 350,000 have been hospitalized.

Washing Your Hands Is Best Defense Against Coronavirus, Not A Facemask 
Here's How To Track The Spread Of The Coronavirus In Real Time
Preventing Coronavirus: Best Miami Songs To Sing For 20 Seconds While Washing Your Hands
Coronavirus Concerns And Voting: Miami-Dade, Broward Election Officials Prepared To Protect Voters, Workers
List Of Disinfectants You Can Use Against Coronavirus
Think You Have Coronavirus? Call Florida's COVID-19 Hotline Before Going To Doctor Or ER

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.