You can’t turn on the TV right now without seeing media coverage about high rates of respiratory disease. From increased rates of hospitalization for kids suffering from RSV to the expectations that this upcoming winter will have record cases of flu. And let’s not forget the ever-changing variants of COVID-19. It certainly sounds like this winter could get nasty. So how do you tell the difference between RSV, influenza, and COVID? And what do we need to know to stay healthy?
RSV, Influenza, and COVID-19 are all highly contagious respiratory infections caused by common viruses. RSV is caused by respiratory syncytial virus. It is usually more severe in infants and the elderly but can infect anyone. Almost all children in the U.S. become infected with this virus by age two and it is the leading cause of hospitalization in U.S.-born infants. Influenza is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. Influenza is commonly called the flu, but it's not the same as stomach "flu" viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting. At first, Influenza may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing, and sore throat. Colds usually develop slowly. But Influenza tends to come on suddenly and you usually feel much worse with Influenza. Finally, COVID-19 is a form of coronavirus. There are many types of coronaviruses. COVID-19, a now common respiratory virus, affects different people in different ways. Infected people have had a wide range of symptoms reported – from mild symptoms to severe illness.
The symptoms of RSV are similar to those of the common cold. They tend to run their course with only mild intensity in adults and older children. In infants and the elderly, symptoms tend to be more severe and can include fevers and wheezing. Influenza and COVID-19 share very similar symptoms, and it might be hard to tell which of the two you have. These symptoms include fever, chills, headache, cough, muscle soreness, fatigue, sore throat, and runny nose. It can take longer for people infected with COVID-19 to show symptoms, and people stay infectious longer than with Influenza. A symptom that seems to be unique to COVID-19 is loss of taste or smell.
Regardless of which virus is circulating, staying healthy can be a challenge. Vaccines are available to help build our immunity to these viruses, but here are a few more things to remember. Wash your hands often, especially before eating meals or snacks. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. Keep several feet between you and others when possible. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or in the bend of your arm and avoid close contact, including kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups or eating utensils. Most importantly, stay home when sick.