COVID-19 vs. Flu vs. RSV: How to tell the difference between respiratory infections

What causes COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new coronavirus

What causes the flu?

The flu is caused by the influenza virus and spreads easily during the winter months when people spend time together indoors. There are many strains of influenza virus, and the virus can change from year to year, which is why you should get a flu vaccine each year.

What causes RSV 

RSV can infect anyone, but is most dangerous in infants and the elderly. Its symptoms are similar to those of the common cold. They tend to run their course with only mild intensity in adults and older children. In infants and elderly, symptoms tend to be more severe, and can include fevers and wheezing. Some cases may require hospitalization, but most infections run their course within 1 to 2 weeks. A baby contracting RSV may require a lot of attention until recovery. However, be on the lookout for serious symptoms that can indicate a need for emergency treatment. If your baby is unusually tired, breathing rapidly or has bluish fingernails, call 911 or go to the ER immediately.

What are the symptoms of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV?

According to the CDC,the flu and COVID-19 share very similar symptoms, and it might be hard to tell which of the two you have. It can take longer for people infected with SARS-CoV-2 to show symptoms and people stay infectious longer than with the flu. A symptom that seems to be unique to COVID-19 is loss of taste or smell. These viruses can cause the following:

  • Fevers
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Muscle soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat