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Ask Dr. Nandi: Is it Flu, RSV, or COVID?

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Posted at 2:06 PM, Dec 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 17:25:20-05

(WXYZ) — In today’s Health Alert, the nation is already experiencing a rise in cases of respiratory viruses this season. But how can you determine whether you have the flu, RSV, or COVID?

All three viruses – flu, RSV, and COVID – have similar symptoms: a cough, fever, runny or congested nose, sneezing, and a sore throat. That makes it difficult to determine what you might have and how to properly treat it.

So, let’s start with the flu. Here’s what to look out for: Flu symptoms appear rather quickly. So, if you are around someone who has the flu, and the next day you have a fever, it’s likely the flu. COVID-19 and RSV have longer incubation periods, ranging from two to 14 days for COVID and two to eight days for RSV. The flu is also more likely than the other viruses to cause muscle or body aches.

RSV will start off like a cold with a dry, nonstop cough. It can produce other respiratory issues, like wheezing and rapid breathing.

Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing are more common in COVID cases. And, the one telltale sign of COVID is the loss of taste and smell. That usually doesn’t happen with the other two viruses.

However, the only way to confirm a diagnosis is through testing.

The patient’s age has a significant impact on the severity of the viruses. RSV is more critical in babies and young children than in healthy adults. Right now, 78 percent of hospital pediatric beds are filled with children suffering from RSV or the flu.

And of course, senior citizens are at greater risk for all three viruses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting a higher rate of hospitalization for adults over age 65 with RSV. And, age is the number one risk factor for severe complications and death from COVID.

If you’re in the high-risk category or if you’re extremely sick from one of these three viruses, visit your healthcare provider. If your symptoms are mild, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, and most importantly, stay home so that you don’t infect others.

We want everyone to have a healthy holiday season.