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RSV vs. COVID-19 vs. Influenza: All You Need to Know

RSV vs. COVID-19 vs. Influenza: All You Need to Know

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 6 min reading time

COVID-19, influenza (the flu), and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) represent a trio of respiratory illnesses, each caused by a different virus. But while they share some similar symptoms, they're caused by different viruses and can impact us quite differently. RSV, for example, tends to have a more pronounced impact on children than adults.

Here's the thing: deciphering which illness you have can be tricky as symptoms often overlap. Knowing the key differences between these viruses can be crucial in getting the right treatment and making informed decisions about your health, which is what we’re going to explore further in this article.

What is influenza?

Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Influenza viruses are classified into four main types: influenza A, B, C, and D. Influenza A and B are responsible for seasonal flu outbreaks that occur annually, while influenza C typically causes milder respiratory illness and is less common. The flu spreads primarily through respiratory droplets when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or talk, and can also be transmitted by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the face.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, short for Coronavirus Disease 2019, is an infectious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. First identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, COVID-19 quickly spread globally, leading to a pandemic. The symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe and may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Similar to that of influenza, COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets from an infected person. Asymptomatic transmission, where infected individuals show no symptoms but can still spread the virus, has also contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

What is RSV?

RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus, is a common respiratory virus that can affect individuals of all ages but is particularly notorious for its impact on young children and infants. It belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family of viruses and is a leading cause of respiratory infections worldwide, responsible for a significant proportion of hospitalisations among infants and young children each year. In the Southern Hemisphere, RSV activity typically peaks between May and September, which corresponds to the cooler months.

The virus spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and it can also survive on surfaces and objects, making it easily transmissible in settings such as daycare centers and schools.

RSV vs. COVID-19 vs. Influenza: What are the differences in symptoms?

When it comes to respiratory illnesses like RSV, COVID-19, and influenza (the flu), distinguishing between them based on symptoms alone can be challenging due to their overlapping clinical presentations. Here's a breakdown of the variations in symptoms among these respiratory viruses:

RSV vs. COVID-19 vs. Influenza Symptoms Chart

Can you have RSV, COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to be infected with multiple respiratory viruses simultaneously, including RSV, COVID-19, and influenza (the flu). When individuals are infected with multiple respiratory viruses at the same time, the interaction between these viruses and the body's immune response can vary. In some cases, one virus may dominate and cause more severe symptoms, while in others, the combined effects of multiple viruses may exacerbate illness.

Co-infection with RSV, COVID-19, and the flu is not common, but it has been reported, particularly during periods of increased viral activity when multiple respiratory viruses are circulating in the community.

Is there a definitive way to tell if you’re having RSV, COVID-19 or influenza?

While we've explored the distinct symptoms of RSV, COVID-19, and influenza, differentiating them solely based on how you feel can be tricky. The good news is, technological advancements have provided us with a powerful tool to navigate this diagnostic dilemma: the combo rapid antigen test (RAT).

Now, you might already be familiar with combo RATs designed to detect COVID-19 and Influenza A/B. Advancements in testing technology now allow for the detection of RSV, COVID-19, and Influenza A/B in a single test, providing more comprehensive insights into respiratory infections.

One such example is the HA Tech RSV, SARS-CoV-2 & Influenza A/B Combo Rapid Antigen Test Kit. This innovative test utilises a nasal swab for sample collection and is ideal for those experiencing:

  • COVID-19-like symptoms within the last 7 days
  • Influenza/RSV-like symptoms within the last 4 days

Another significant advantage? The HA TECH test is made in Australia and TGA-listed, so you can have peace of mind knowing it is reliable and adheres to stringent quality standards.

Need a test kit? Shop HA Tech Combo Test Kit at Aussie Pharma Direct.

The takeaway

The combo rapid antigen test empowers you to identify the culprit behind your respiratory symptoms, however, the test result from the kit is just the first step. Remember, treatment still depends on the severity of your symptoms and the specific virus identified.

For mild cases, isolating yourself at home and managing symptoms with rest, over-the-counter medications, and plenty of fluids is often the best course of action, however, it's crucial to be aware of any worsening symptoms. This includes:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever (especially in young children)
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Worsening cough or congestion
  • Dehydration

If you experience any of these, don't hesitate to seek medical attention at a clinic or hospital. Especially for young children and infants with RSV, a worsening condition warrants an immediate trip to the hospital.


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