Winter brings with it lots of fun things: holiday festivities, ski vacations, roaring fireplaces, and some not-so-fun things like runny noses and sore throats. This winter in particular, many of us are nervous about the possibility of a new wave of covidBut that’s not the only health threat medical professionals are concerned about.
“We are facing the possibility of a tripledemic this winter, with COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) they all circulate, and there is a risk of co-infection with more than one of these viruses,” Bradley WassonDO, a board-certified family physician in Arlington, Texas, says Better life. “The CDC reports that influenza hospitalizations in the US are already the highest in 10 years, and the data also shows that RSV cases are at their highest point in two years.”
If you have a cold or itchy throat, you may be wondering how to tell these three viruses apart. Read on to find out what symptoms doctors recommend, when to worry, and how you can protect yourself.
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RSV cases are increasing in the US.
“RSV is a virus that begins with low-grade viral symptoms that include congestion, cough, fever, and irritability.” Steven GoudyMD, a pediatric otolaryngologist in Atlanta and creator of the Dr Noze Best NozeBotHe says Better life. “Severe symptoms usually occur after the fourth or fifth day of infection [and] include severe nasal congestion, coughing fits, wheezing and shortness of breath.
Often thought of as something that primarily affects infants and young children, RSV is on the rise in the US this season in people of all ages, The New York Times recently reported. “RSV can be very serious for infants and young children, as well as older adults,” Wasson says. “The virus can also cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis in young children. One symptom that is unique to RSV is wheezing.”
Goudy adds that while “many viruses cause fever, nasal congestion, and cough, RSV can cause more significant nasal and respiratory symptoms than most viruses. Most viral infections last five to seven days, however, the RSV lasts seven to 10 days.”
COVID remains a concern this winter.
While COVID cases have been declining in recent months, as CNN reports, experts are concerned that several new variants of the virus could result in another increase this winter.
“What is likely to happen is that we have several co-circulating semi-dominant lineages going into the winter season.” Nathan Grubaugh, associate professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, told CNN. The news outlet explains that “the new variants are particularly devastating for millions of Americans who have weakened immune systems.”
“Sneezing, sore throat, nasal congestion, persistent cough, and headache” are all common symptoms of the current COVID variants circulating, according to Fortunewhich also notes that loss of smell “is no longer common among COVID patients.”
We could see “a robust comeback” of the flu this year.
With so many of us worried about COVID and RSV surges, it’s important not to forget that the simple flu is still pretty dangerous, too. The flu can also cause serious complications like stroke or pneumonia,” Wasson says. “People most at risk for flu-related complications include young children, pregnant people, older adults, and anyone with chronic health problems, such as lung problems or heart diseasediabetes or cancer.
“Signs and symptoms of the flu usually come on suddenly,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes, listing fever, chills, cough, runny nose, muscle aches, and fatigue among most common complaints of flu patients. In October they reported an early rise in seasonal flu activity, explaining that since the U.S. has had low numbers of flu cases in the past two years, “reduced population immunity, particularly among young children who may never have been exposed to the flu or have never been vaccinated, it could lead to a strong return of the flu ” this year.
jodi carterMD, Head of the Department of Pediatrics at District Medical Group and Valleywise Healthsays that with the flu, “the time from exposure to infection is usually one to four days. In addition to coughing, sneezing, sore throat, and nasal congestion, flu infection is also often accompanied by high fever, chills, body aches and headaches.
A high fever can be a symptom of RSV, the flu, or COVID.
Sometimes a runny nose and scratchy throat are nothing to worry about. The common cold, while admittedly bothersome and uncomfortable, is “relatively harmless and usually clears up on its ownwrite the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Carter notes that colds are “often due to rhinovirus infection” and say there is usually a two- to three-day window between exposure and infection. “Symptoms can include cough, low-grade fever, sneezing, sore throat, and/or nasal congestion,” he says.
However, if you have a fever, you probably have more than just a cold. “A high fever is often a sign that something more serious than the common cold is involved, whether it’s COVID-19, the flu, or RSV,” Wasson says. “Your healthcare provider can help you assess your specific symptoms. There are also rapid point-of-care tests that are available to help determine if you have COVID-19, the flu, or RSV.”
Given the overlap between symptoms, these tests may be the only sure way to determine which disease you have. And of course, no matter what you are sick with, you should monitor your condition and seek medical assistance if necessary.
“With all viruses, it’s important to watch for more serious symptoms that may indicate a need for emergency treatment, such as shortness of breath, rapid breathing, bluish color to skin or lips, dehydration, or sudden dizziness,” he says. Wasson.
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Getting vaccinated against the flu and COVID can help you stay healthy.
The best way to protect yourself from illness this winter is to make sure you’re vaccinated against the flu and COVID, Wasson says. “It’s crucial to take precautions to help prevent viruses like COVID-19 and the flu in the first place,” he explains.
“One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family is to take advantage of available preventative vaccines. For example, flu shots can be given along with COVID-19 shots and COVID-19 booster shots.” 19 on the same day, which can help avoid multiple appointments and multiple trips to the doctor or pharmacy,” Wasson says.
He stresses the importance of getting vaccinated well in advance of any planned trip, explaining that “it takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot,” and recommends visiting NotTodayFlu.com “to locate vaccines near you and learn more about how flu shots can protect you from the flu and its related complications, such as stroke, pneumonia, and heart attack.”
Wearing a mask in public places is still a good way to stay healthy this winter reports The New York Times. CNBC has mask guide designed to help keep you safe from COVID, the flu, and RSV. And if you’re concerned that many people are no longer wearing masks, you may find it reassuring to know that The New York Times says there is “plenty of evidence to show that masks protect the wearer, even when other people around them don’t have masks.”