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COVID-19, Flu, and RSV

During the fall and winter seasons, respiratory infections become more common as people spend more time indoors. Already, there has been an increase of COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases. Knowing the differences and similarities between these three will help you stay healthy and vigilant.


It is important to know each is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus, and an individual can be infected with multiple viruses simultaneously.

  • COVID-19 – caused by SARS-CoV-2, also known as “coronavirus.”
  • Flu – caused by the influenza virus, and the virus changes year to year, which is why a new vaccine is offered annually.
  • RSV – caused by the respiratory syncytial virus. The virus is very contagious and can infect all ages, though it is most severe in infants and older adults.


COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms which can make self-diagnosis difficult. The following are shared symptoms: fever, chills, headache, cough, muscle soreness, fatigue, diarrhea, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sore throat.

The loss of taste and smell is unique to COVID-19. Common complications from the flu include dehydration, pneumonia, and sinus and ear infections.

RSV symptoms are similar to the common cold and can include fevers and wheezing. Most infections run their course within one to two weeks. Infections in infants or the elderly may be severe enough to require hospitalization. If an infant appears to be unusually tired, breathing rapidly, or has bluish fingernails, seek emergency care immediately.

Testing and Treatment

The best way to determine where you have the flu or COVID-19 is to get tested. At-home COVID-19 tests can be found at pharmacies. Alternatively, you can be tested for the viruses by your primary care provider.

Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. Antibodies are needed to fight off viral infections and develop through infection or vaccination. Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are readily available at many pharmacies and doctor’s offices. While experts say vaccination is the best protection against the viruses, you can prevent infection by avoiding individuals who appear ill, washing your hands, sanitizing surfaces, and following CDC guidelines.