Home News COVID, RSV or the flu? How do you differentiate between symptoms?

COVID, RSV or the flu? How do you differentiate between symptoms?

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(NEXSTAR) — Three respiratory diseases, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza, continue to infect hundreds of thousands of Americans every day, making it hard to know what’s wrong when you feel like coughing.

The three viruses cause a disease with overlapping symptoms. A chart created by Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. compares the most common differences at a glance.

Although cough and fever are common among the three, there are other ways in which the viruses differ. Sneezing is common with RSV, occasionally occurs with COVID-19 and rarely with the flu, according to the hospital symptom chart. On the other hand, headaches and body aches are rare with RSV, occasionally occur with COVID-19, and are common with influenza.

Another thing to watch out for is the “onset of symptoms,” says the National Children’s Journal. Although both COVID-19 and RSV start gradually and then escalate, the flu usually hits hard and fast.

With RSV, symptoms often resolve within about a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms last longer with the flu, about 1 to 2 weeks, and may last longer with COVID-19.

A chart created by Children’s National Hospital compares symptoms associated with COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. (Photo: Children’s National)

The severity of symptoms in all three conditions varies from person to person.

Another key difference: There are vaccines for influenza and COVID-19, but no vaccine for RSV — although researchers are working on one.

Although reviewing your symptoms is a good place to start, doctors recommend getting tested to help figure out next steps.

“For influenza and COVID, we have antivirals that work if taken immediately after symptoms appear,” said Dr. Andrew Picus, a virologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “So, especially if you are in a high-risk group, it is good to know. … These are important tools that we really need to continue using.”

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