Do You Have the Flu, RSV, COVID, or a Cold?

Winter is fast approaching, which means that runny nasal passages, coughing, and congestion may be on the way. How can you tell if it is just a cold or if you are suffering from one of three respiratory viruses that comprise the “tripledemic,” namely RSV (respiratory virus), COVID-19, and influenza?

It is hard to diagnose an illness based on your symptoms alone. There are some clues to help you determine the disease that you have: your symptoms, how long they took to appear, which viruses are prevalent in your area, etc.

Experts were asked to explain it to us.

How Viruses Separate Themselves – Or Don’t

COVID can look like a cold for those who have recently received their most recent vaccination. It is important to have at-home tests available.

Panagis Galiatsatos MD, a Johns Hopkins pulmonary and critical-care doctor, said that vaccinations prevent [these viruses] hitting the chest. “Vaccinated Patients may get a slight cough, but most of their symptoms are more like an upper respiratory problem, such as nasal congestion, similar to a cold.”

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Cold vs. flu

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Loss of Taste and Smell was one of COVID’s unique symptoms, especially in earlier versions of the virus. Galiatsatos said that while this is still a symptom, it is not as common in some cases. Patients who are vaccinated often report a loss of taste or smell due to upper respiratory congestion. At the same time, in the past, “it was mainly a virus invasion on the nervous system.”

This has changed because many people now have antibodies that protect them from the more serious consequences of COVID-19. They either recovered from an infection or were immunized.

COVID, unlike RSV, flu, and cold, may also cause gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although GI problems are a less common symptom, they can indicate that you need to be tested for COVID-19.

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RSV can look like a mild COVID or cold in people over 65 or not under the age of 6. Children and seniors who are wheezing or experiencing asthma attacks can be a sign of RSV. This is according to Peter Chin-Hong MD, an infectious diseases expert at the University of California San Francisco.

What Can the Timing Tell Us About Symptoms?

Chin-Hong explained that common cold symptoms usually appear fairly quickly. RSV symptoms may not appear for 4 to 6 weeks. The flu virus is a completely different matter.

Chin-Hong explained that the flu is characterized by its sudden onset of symptoms. You might feel fine, but then suddenly, you may feel as if you have been hit by a truck when you get into your car.

COVID has its unique symptoms. You might not experience any symptoms or have mild symptoms similar to a cold for about a week before symptoms become more severe.

Chin-Hong said that COVID follows a biphasic cycle, while colds and the RSV do not. “You are doing okay, then suddenly you drop off a cliff,” she explained. Early treatment with Paxlovid and remdesivir can help prevent the second phase.

How to treat colds and flu the natural way

WebMD offers eight natural remedies for cold and flu symptoms.

Testing is Your Best Bet

Galiatsatos believes that getting tested for COVID-19 is the first thing you should do. If you get two negative results within 24 hours, you should consider getting a flu shot at your local clinic. Regular testing can help you get the right antivirals like Tamiflu, which can reduce symptoms for a full day. When you get the flu, even a couple of extra days can be a game changer.

It could be a big mistake to assume you have COVID without testing, especially if the respiratory symptoms are long-lasting.

I was saddened by the fact that so many patients with long-standing COVID-19 symptoms had never been tested. Galiatsatos said that he could no longer push the antibodies of patients because they may have antibodies from an old infection or vaccine. It is difficult to get insurance companies to pay for COVID-19 long tests if the COVID test was negative to begin with.

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