When is the flu or COVID-19 an emergency?

Symptoms of flu or COVID-19 overlap quite a bit — be on the lookout for emergency situations.

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Symptoms of seasonal flu and the coronavirus/COVID-19 overlap, and most people with mild symptoms will recover at home.

Your health provider will give you a plan to get better. It will include staying home and avoiding contact with others except to get medical treatment. Antiviral medicine for the flu is most helpful if started within two days of the start of symptoms.

There are differences in who is most at risk for flu versus those at risk for COVID-19 complications. Older individuals and those with underlying medical conditions are still at highest risk for flu and coronavirus-related hospitalizations. The flu is a higher risk for infants, young children and pregnant women, which is why we strongly advise everyone to get the flu vaccine this season.

“With regards to the flu, if you’re a healthy young patient and you’re able to break the fever with over-the-counter medicine, and you’re not having problems breathing, then you can probably just see how you do for a couple days before following up with your doctor,” said Christina M. Breit, M.D., internal medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Mallard Creek.

But since coronavirus infection can look a lot like the flu, it’s important to be mindful of the emergency signs this year and know the differences in flu versus the coronavirus.

When is COVID-19 an emergency?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises seeking emergency medical care if any of these symptoms show up. If there are other symptoms that are severe or of concern, call your health care provider.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

When Is the flu an emergency?

If you have any of the following emergency warning signs of the flu, go to an emergency room.


  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

For the care you need now

In addition to six emergency departments in the Louisville area, Norton Healthcare has convenient options for care, including 24/7 access to a provider in person or online through Norton Telehealth.

Learn more


In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for an infant with any of these signs:

  • Unable to feed
  • Trouble breathing
  • No tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal


  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

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