What Have You? RSV, Covid or Flu

Some of the symptoms of the three viruses are similar and mild cases can be hard to distinguish. Further, visiting a doctor’s office when it’s not necessary may simply expose you or your child to another disease. And, yes, it’s possible to be infected with more than one virus at the same time,

RSV: This is the respiratory syncytial virus. Most children under the age of 2 get it, and most of the time it’s similar to a cold. RSV is also a problem for adults with compromised immune systems — that is where another disease or the treatment for a disease (like chemo) has reduced the effectiveness of the immune system.

RSV will show in a child as a combination of runny nose and fever. Vomiting and diarrhea aren’t associated with RSV.

Two warning signs that indicate a child requires a doctor’s attention are difficulty breathing and reduction in intake of liquids.

“If you’re noticing your child is working harder to breathe … [or] if you’re noticing they’re not drinking as much, those are all signs the baby needs to come in.”

Dr. Vandana Madhavan, clinical director of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Mass General for Children (1)

Children with RSV may suffer from wheezing long after the infection is gone.

Covid: By now, most people know that a loss of sense of taste or smell — especially in the absence of nasal congestion — indicates the Covid virus. Some people may have the virus a not have or not notice this symptom. For others, it’s the only symptom of the coronavirus infection. Another sign of Covid is symptoms that last beyond a couple of weeks, notably brain fog or confusion. Colds, flu and RSV usually resolve faster than that.

Flu: Everyone “knows” what this is, and yet they don’t. The symptoms are similar to a cold, but the flu weakens the immune system, opening the door for other viruses. Flu can trigger an” inflammation cascade” that in adults can lead to heart attack and stroke. While flu is conventionally considered as a threat to the very elderly, it can be a serious problem to anyone with an under-performing immune system.

There are home test kits for all of these diseases. The kits for flu and Covid have been on the market for a bit and are relatively inexpensive. The RSV test kit is newly approved and much more expensive. Are the kits worth it? Only if you think the test would cause you to do something different to deal with the disease. Since the standard protocol is rest and hydration unless there is a serious complication, it’s easy to argue against buying the kit.

The bottom line is not to panic at the initial sign of illness this year. However, listen to your body, or your child’s body. If something seems off, especially with regard to breathing or an unusually high temperature, call your doctor immediately. Also, as much as some people scoff at them, wearing a mask might allow you to skate through what appears to be an unusually bad season for illness.

It might also be good to pick up an oximeter at the drug store. They’re not expensive, and allow you to monitor oxygen levels in the blood. Below normal levels can lead to brain and heart damage, as well as damage to other important organs. To speak bluntly, that’s what killed my father.


  1. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/covid-flu-rsv-symptoms_l_636c0ddbe4b01727bbd44f18
  2. https://www.labcorp.com/coronavirus-disease-covid-19/covid-news-education/covid-19-vs-flu-vs-rsv-how-tell-difference
  3. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/rsv-vs-covid-vs-flu/
  4. https://thehill.com/homenews/nexstar_media_wire/3702612-rsv-vs-covid-vs-flu-heres-what-you-need-to-know/
  5. https://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/news/20221117/is-it-rsv-covid-flu-or-common-cold
  6. https://www.wsav.com/news/washington/doctors-warn-of-covid-19-rsv-and-flu-ahead-of-thanksgiving/
  7. https://www.pennlive.com/coronavirus/2022/11/heres-the-main-differences-between-covid-rsv-a-cold-and-the-flu-as-cases-rise.html?e=288f590c3217476e326017c30695cade%20


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