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NEWS | Dec. 14, 2021

COVID-19? Flu? Allergies? Which One Do I Have, Doc?

By Troy Miller, Public Affairs Specialist Norfolk Naval Shipyard

If someone has a fever and feeling fatigue, do they have COVID-19? If someone has a cough and a runny nose, is it allergies? If someone has a headache and a sore throat, it must be the flu. Right? Wrong!

“With COVID-19, the flu and allergies having similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart,” said Naval Medical Readiness Training Unit NMRTU Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) Occupational and Environmental Medicine Physician and Clinic Director Cmdr. Scott Welch. “However, each has some more common symptoms that distinguish them from one another.”

The differences are how quick a person would start to have symptoms. Allergies are quicker than flu, which is quicker than COVID-19. The main symptoms vary in that the  flu and COVID-19 will likely have a cough and fever, but flu will be a dry cough, and COVID-19 may also have the loss of smell and taste.  Allergies, on the other hand, will just lead to a stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes without a fever or cough. 

So what exactly are the difference between COVID-19, the flu and allergies? Both COVID-19 and the flu are caused by viruses- COVID-19 by the SARS CoV-2 (a coronavirus) and the flu by influenza (an orthomyxovirus).  “Both of these have the potential to make us ill and can also be spread to others and make them sick,” said Welch. “On the other hand, allergies are caused by our body having a response to allergens - pollen, dander, mold, etc.  We will be uncomfortable, but typically the seasonal allergies will not make us ill and we can’t pass them on to others as they aren’t infectious.”

The tricky part about infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and influenza is that there is more impact than just to the individual.  There is the “collateral damage” to others, and since each person is different, there is no guarantee that just because one person had a mild course of disease, that someone they pass it on to will have the same course.  “We continue to suffer through this pandemic because we are putting individual liberties and freedoms ahead of the common good,” said Welch.  “In the end, we all suffer - through illness and death of loved ones, which can lead to lost time at work or, even worse, lost workers, which contributes to shortages in manufacturing of goods and delivery of services. It also causes a shortage in our health care resources, not just for COVID-19 related issues, but for other diseases and disorders.”

Prevention is the best line of defense.  It is all about staying vigilant on the basics, including mask wearing, physical distancing, washing hands and getting vaccinated to better prevent the spread of the virus. The more the viruses are allowed to spread, the greater the risk of them mutating into more dangerous variants.  This happens every so often with influenza, such as the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, but COVID-19 is proving to be more dangerous in how much easier it spreads, how much sicker it makes people, and how quickly it mutates into more concerning variants. For allergies, individuals should  try to avoid what triggers reactions and take some over-the-counter or prescribed medication to dampen the body’s response if needed.

For all federal employees and active duty military, the COVID-19 vaccine is mandated. Federal employees, active duty, retired and reserved military personnel and their dependents can receive their vaccination at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), or at a variety of pharmacies throughout the area.  For NMCP, you can use the Defense Health Agency appointment portal to schedule a vaccine appointment. They can also get their vaccination out in town at various pharmacies and vaccination centers. To schedule a visit out in town go to

The flu vaccination is also recommended and, in some cases, mandatory.  “For health care workers at many health care facilities, such as all military facilities, including NMCP and service members, it is required,” said Welch.  “Regardless, it is always recommended to get the flu vaccine for the same reasons that the COVID-19 vaccines have been recommended.  It helps reduce the risk for severe disease and for passing it along to others, especially those who cannot get the vaccine and who are more at risk for severe disease and death. The flu vaccine is available at NMCP, primary care physicians, and pharmacies.”

Always remember that during the pandemic, it’s important to take after NASA. Give people space.

For more information on COVID-19, visit,, and For more information on influenza, visit