"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Are you affected by the flu, RSV, COVID or a chilly?

November 22, 2023 – Winter is just across the corner and with it may well come runny noses, coughs and congestion. But how do you realize when you just have a chilly or one among the three respiratory viruses that make up the “tripledemic” – RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), COVID-19 and influenza?

It's difficult to inform what disease you would possibly have based on symptoms alone. But there are clues that may point you in the proper direction: how severe your symptoms are, how long it took for symptoms to look, what viruses are circulating in your community, and more.

We asked experts to interrupt it down for us.

How viruses stand out – or not

These days, COVID can present itself similarly to a chilly, especially in individuals who have received probably the most recent vaccine, so it's necessary to have at-home testing ready.

“Vaccinations remain [these viruses] from impact to the chest,” said Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, a pulmonary and demanding care physician at Johns Hopkins. “Vaccinated patients may get a mild cough, but many of their symptoms are more likely to persist as upper respiratory problems, like nasal congestion – like a bad cold.”

One of the unique symptoms of COVID, particularly with the sooner variants of the virus, was this Loss of taste and smell. Although this still occurs in some cases, this symptom isn't any longer as common, Galiatsatos said. In most cases, vaccinated patients report a lack of smell or taste resulting from upper respiratory tract congestion, whereas previously it was “more of a neurological invasion of the virus,” he said.

That has modified because so lots of us now have antibodies to guard us from the more serious consequences of COVID, whether through recovery from a previous infection, through vaccination, or through a mix of each.

Unlike RSV, colds and flu, COVID can even cause it Gastrointestinal symptoms comparable to nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Although gastrointestinal problems are a reasonably rare symptom, they is usually a sign that it's best to get tested for COVID.

RSV can appear to be a chilly or a gentle case of COVID in healthy individuals who should not children or older than 65. But in children and seniors, a telltale sign of possible RSV infection is when a patient wheezes or has asthma attacks, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert on the University of California, San Francisco.

What the timing of symptoms can tell us

Cold symptoms are likely to appear relatively quickly, Chin-Hong explained. On the opposite hand, when you develop into infected with RSV, it might take 4 to six days for symptoms to look. When it involves flu viruses, it's a very different story.

“The distinctive feature of the flu is the sudden onset of symptoms,” Chin-Hong said. “Maybe you're minding your own business, feeling OK, and then all of a sudden you get in your car and feel like you've been hit by a dump truck.”

COVID also has some unique symptomatic characteristics. You may don't have any symptoms in any respect, or you will have mild, cold-like symptoms for per week before the symptoms worsen and the infection becomes more serious.

“COVID has this two-phase pattern, whereas that's not the case with colds and RSV – it's whenever you're feeling reasonably well and then you definitely fall off a cliff,” Chin-Hong said. “That’s why early treatment with paxlovid or remdesivir is so important because it can prevent this second phase from occurring.”

Testing is your best choice

For Galiatsatos, your first instinct should be to get tested for COVID – and two negative tests within 24 hours should encourage you to get a flu test at a local health facility if you are able. Staying current with testing can help you get access to the right antivirals like Tamiflu shorten symptoms by a day or more. And when you come down with the flu, these few days could make a giant difference.

It may very well be a mistake to easily assume you've gotten COVID and never get tested, especially when you find yourself having long-lasting respiratory symptoms from the virus.

“One of the things that broke my heart was that so many patients came to my clinic with symptoms of long COVID but never got tested. I can no longer test their antibodies because these antibodies could come from an older infection or a vaccine,” Galiatsatos said. “It’s difficult to get insurance companies to pay for long COVID tests when there wasn’t a positive COVID test to begin with.”