What’s the Difference Between RSV, the Flu, and COVID-19?

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What’s the Difference Between RSV, the Flu, and COVID-19?

With winter upon us, it should come as no surprise if your child wakes up one day with a fever, runny nose, and a cough. During the cold months, illnesses are able to spread much faster due to cold air weakening immunity. People also tend to spend much more time indoors and in close contact with one another during the winter.

Some common illnesses that children deal with during these chilly months include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza (flu), and COVID-19. Because these viruses share so many similarities, it can be tough to differentiate among them and know if your child needs a sick visit.

At Fairway Children’s Medical Group in West Covina, California, our pediatric team led by Jackyln Chan, MD, FAAP, and Eva Chan, MD, FAAP, understands that determining what sickness your child has can be tricky. 

We’ve put together this blog so you can not only better understand what virus your child has but also recognize when your child needs a visit to our office.

Understanding RSV, the flu, and COVID-19

RSV is a virus that leads to respiratory infection. When your child has a respiratory infection, they generally experience mild, cold-like symptoms that typically clear within 1-2 weeks, though infants face a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications. RSV is extremely contagious and can spread through infected respiratory droplets that land on another person or any surface.

The flu is caused by the influenza virus. It’s one of the most common infectious diseases and often causes an epidemic during the winter months due to its high contagion. Just like RSV, the flu can spread through infected respiratory droplets or contaminated surfaces.

COVID-19 is an illness that stems from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It spreads through close contact just as RSV and the flu do. You can see symptoms of COVID-19 about 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

The similarities and differences between RSV, the flu, and COVID-19

Even though all these illnesses are caused by different viruses, they all have very similar symptoms, which is why it’s easy to get them confused.

RSV, the flu, and COVID-19 can all cause the following symptoms in your child:

  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Decreased energy

All of these viruses can also lead to a fever as your child’s body tries to fight off the illness.

Despite all these similarities, there are still some key differences that should help you in determining which illness your child has. 

In young children, RSV can easily lead to breathing complications and lack of energy. You may notice that your child has lost interest in their normal activities and also has very noisy breathing or different breathing patterns.

It’s not uncommon for children to have a very wet cough and even nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea when they have the flu. 

When it comes to COVID-19, children tend to have more of a dry cough and may even have shortness of breath. COVID-19 also more easily leads to complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome or conjunctivitis (pink eye).

When does your child need a sick visit?

Since all of these illnesses are viruses, they should go away on their own with a little TLC. However, if you notice any the following symptoms, your child may have a more serious infection:

  • Long-lasting fever of 103° F or higher
  • Ear pain
  • Persistent vomiting and diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rashes

If these symptoms are particularly severe, you may need to seek prompt medical care.

To schedule a sick visit for your child so they can receive expert illness diagnosis and care, contact our office by calling 909-594-3382 or by using our online scheduler today.