Are you suffering from the flu, RSV or COVID-19?  How can you tell the difference

Are you suffering from the flu, RSV or COVID-19? How can you tell the difference

Are you suffering from the flu, RSV or COVID-19? How can you tell the difference

The US is facing wave of respiratory virusesmainly triggered by COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.

Influenza and RSV struck earlier than usual and hit children particularly hard, causing 78% of pediatric hospital beds to be filled, according to the data US Department of Health & human services.

All three viruses have similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to tell them apart. But knowing which virus a person has can help them receive appropriate treatment or, if necessary, inform them if they need to be isolated.

Here are some questions to consider when trying to determine if you have COVID-19, the flu, or RSV.

What are the symptoms?

COVID-19, influenza and RSV are more similar than different in symptoms.

One of the symptoms exclusively for one virus and not for others is the loss of taste and smell, which is the main symptom of COVID-19.

Are you suffering from the flu, RSV or COVID-19?  How can you tell the difference

Symptoms of COVID-19, RSV and flu

ABC News Photo Illustration, CDC, Mayo Clinic

However, public health experts told ABC News that not having one of the symptoms doesn’t mean a patient doesn’t have a particular virus, and the only way to be sure is to get tested.

“In most cases, if someone has generic symptoms, like a fever, a cough, a runny nose, there’s not going to be a real way to tell which is which without a test,” Scott Roberts, MD, assistant professor of medicine and associate director of infection prevention at Yale School of Medicine. , he told ABC News.

How soon did the symptoms appear?

Flu symptoms tend to appear fairly quickly, while RSV and COVID-19 symptoms appear more gradually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 has an incubation period of two to 14 days, while RSV has an average incubation period of about five days, but can last from two to eight days.

By comparison, the flu has an incubation period of one to four days.

“So if someone says, ‘I was at a Thanksgiving party yesterday where someone had the flu and the next day I had a fever,’ I can already tell you it’s the flu,” Roberts said. “I know it’s too soon for there to be COVID.”

How old is the patient?

Public health experts told ABC News that depending on how old the patient is can affect the severity of the disease.

For example, the RSV is most difficult for infants under six months, older and small childrenespecially those with weakened immune systems or congenital lung or heart disease.

PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: People enter a pharmacy past a sign promoting flu shots in New York on January 10, 2013.

People enter a pharmacy past a sign promoting flu shots in New York on January 10, 2013.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters, FILE

“Children younger than six months and children maybe a little older who have some diseases or were premature, end up having shortness of breath and difficulty breathing because their airways are so small and they don’t have much reserve to move air through the small airways when are inflamed,” Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News.

However, relatively young and healthy adults are unlikely to develop a serious case of RSV if they become infected.

“In children, we have a lot more respiratory problems with RSV bronchiolitis,” Dr. Allison Bartlett, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medical Center, told ABC News. “Adults, when they get RSV, it’s like a cold. It’s like one of those colds you get every year.”

Along with COVID-19, age is the number one risk factor for serious illness and death.

As of the week ending Nov. 19, Americans age 65 and older they make up 92% of all deaths from the virus, according to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published by ABC News.

What treatments or precautions do I need to follow?

“Not everyone needs to be tested; our pediatric offices and hospitals are overwhelmed,” Bartlett said. However, determining which disease it is can help treat the patient and potentially family members or close contacts, she said.

For example, in the case of the disease COVID-19, it is important to follow CDC guidelineswhich includes isolating for at least five days — or longer if symptoms don’t improve — and wearing a mask around others.

In addition, they may be prescribed Paxlovid if they are at risk of severe disease.

For the flu, patients can receive Tamiflu to shorten the course of the disease as long as it is given early, and people exposed to the flu can receive therapy to prevent them from getting sick.

PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: People enter a pharmacy past a sign promoting flu shots in New York on January 10, 2013.

People enter a pharmacy past a sign promoting flu shots in New York on January 10, 2013.

Andrew Kelly/Reuters, FILE

However, the most important thing a person can do if they are infected – when possible – is to stay home.

“If you’re very, very sick, go to the hospital. If you’re not that sick, and it looks like a common cold, then stay home and don’t infect people,” Doron said.

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