Health & Wellness

What you need to know about flu and RSV this season

What you need to know about flu and RSV this season

The combination of flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and COVID-19 has created a trifecta of viral infections this fall, or what some are calling the “tripledemic.” Like the flu, RSV is a common seasonal illness, but there is no current vaccine, and an early spike this year has put healthcare providers and parents on alert.

Knowing what symptoms to watch for and when to see your care team are key to keeping you and your family healthy.

What to watch for

  • RSV: Rapid breathing and wheezing

  • Flu: Symptoms come on quickly

  • COVID: No smell/taste and sore throat

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, poor appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For most adults, RSV usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. But for young children (under 12 months) or older adults (over 65), respiratory symptoms may become severe quickly.

  • How it spreads:
    Coughs, sneezes, surfaces, and direct contact.

  • Who’s at risk:
    For some infants and older adults, it can turn into a severe respiratory disease, requiring hospitalization.

  • Symptoms:
    • Stuffy or runny nose
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Wheezing
    • Fast breathing
    • Trouble breathing
    • Flaring of nostrils or straining of the chest or stomach while breathing
    • Turning blue around the lips and fingertips
    • Trouble eating, drinking, or swallowing

  • When to call your provider:
    Schedule an appointment if you see symptoms of RSV. Seek urgent medical attention for trouble breathing or lips/fingertips turning blue.

Flu

Influenza (flu) is a respiratory tract infection caused by a virus. Millions of people get the flu each year. Most people are sick with the flu for only a few days. In most cases, the flu can be treated at home.

  • How it spreads: 
    Coughs, sneezes, surfaces, and direct contact.

  • Who’s at risk:
    • Pregnant women
    • Children younger than 5 years
    • Adults over 65
    • People with specific conditions, including weakened immune systems (from an underlying health condition or medications that suppress the immune response), diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, or asthma

  • Symptoms:
    • Cough, often becoming severe
    • Extreme exhaustion
    • Fatigue for several weeks
    • Headache
    • High fever
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Severe aches and pains
    • Sneezing at times
    • Sometimes a sore throat
    • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • When to call your provider:
    Schedule an appointment if you see symptoms of the flu. Depending on when your symptoms started and your risk factors for severe flu infection, you may be a candidate for anti-viral treatment.

    Seek urgent medical attention for trouble breathing, severe or persistent vomiting, or lips/fingertips turning blue.

    Call your provider if symptoms worsen or if you notice the following in your child:
    • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    • Bluish or gray skin color
    • Not drinking enough fluids
    • Severe or persistent vomiting
    • Not waking up or not interacting
    • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
    • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with a fever and a more severe cough

How to tell the difference between flu, COVID, and RSV

Flu symptoms tend to come on suddenly, while COVID and RSV symptoms come on more gradually. Symptoms, like a runny nose, cough, congestion, or sore throat, can be similar for all three, but fever is much more common with the flu and COVID than RSV. A loss of taste and smell is more commonly associated with COVID than with flu or RSV. Wheezing is often a tell-tale sign of a serious RSV infection. However, there is a lot of overlap between the symptoms of the three infections.

Stop the spread

Although there is no current vaccine for RSV, there are available immunizations for the flu and COVID-19. An immunization can reduce the chances of contracting either and can reduce the severity and duration of the illness if you become infected.

As with all respiratory infections, there are additional precautions you can take to prevent spread:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

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Tags: COVID-19, Flu, RSV, Viral Infections