The 2022-2023 flu season is underway and it’s already been a brutal one. Hospitals are filling up with cases of the flu, Covid, and respiratory syncytial virus. With the holiday season afoot, this trio of contagious viruses can be distressing. How can you tell which one you have? Or if you have a combination? Let’s unblur the lines of these illnesses and identify what symptoms you should look out for.
Breaking Down the Flu, Covid, and RSV
When you catch the flu you may experience mild symptoms such as sinus and ear infections. But potentially fatal complications can also arise. This includes pneumonia or tissue inflammation. Flu can infect the respiratory tract and cause severe inflammatory reactions. This can lead to sepsis, the body’s potentially fatal response to infection. Furthermore, flu can exacerbate existing medical conditions like asthma or heart disease.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has also been spreading rapidly this year. RSV is an illness that infects the lungs, nose, throat, and breathing passages. It’s most common among babies and young children. But RSV is also known to infect immunocompromised and elderly patients. Mild cases of RSV consist of flu-like symptoms. More severe cases can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia.
Along with flu and RSV, contracting Covid is also a major risk this holiday season. So what are the similarities and differences between these ailments? All three are respiratory-related illnesses with symptoms of cough, fever, and runny nose. Getting the flu or Covid can also come with body aches, chills, headache, and sore throat. Covid alone may cause shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, diarrhea, and nausea. Those with RSV may notice a loss of appetite. People tend to recover from the flu in less than a week. But Covid can last up to two weeks and be infectious for prolonged periods.
You can have one or more of these illnesses at the same time. And catching one virus may cause you to contract another. RSV can increase your risk of getting Covid since it lowers your immunity. Plus Covid and the flu can both be asymptomatic, which means you can spread it without even knowing. Testing is crucial to confirm the proper diagnosis and select the right treatment. The bottom line is all these viruses are contagious. So if you have any of them, you must distance yourself from others.
What To Do if You Get the Flu
There are several things you can do to stay healthy and even shorten the flu infection period. Staying hydrated with lots of water is ideal. Other liquids like black tea, orange juice, and low-sugar sports drinks work too. Stay away from milk, alcohol, coffee, and high-sugar drinks. These may cause excess mucus, dehydration, or inflammation.
There is no foolproof way of curing the flu. But taking medications and supplements may help. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu, Relenza, Rapivab, and Xofluza can shorten the infection. Using decongestants and antihistamines relieve swollen nasal passages and lozenges for sore throats.
One of the most important pieces of advice from doctors is to rest at home. “Staying home will help in two ways,” says Maryrose Laguio-Vila, MD, an Infectious Disease Specialist with Rochester Regional Health. “It will prevent you from spreading the flu to other people—keeping them healthy and reducing the potential number of people who might need to visit urgent care or hospital for their symptoms. Staying home will also allow you to rest better, leading to a full recovery.” This will require you to take time off from work or miss out on holiday get-togethers. But all in all, it’s better to keep everyone safe.
Is It Too Late To Get the Flu Shot?
Flu season usually occurs throughout the fall and winter. While influenza viruses travel all year, activity often peaks between December and February. But this flu season currently boasts over 50,000 cases per week in New York and is predicted to last until May 2023.
Fall is the best time to get vaccinated against the flu. Ideally, you should receive your vaccine by the end of October. But with so many cases and infectious viruses going around, getting the flu shot is still worth it. As winter is upon us, peak flu season is just around the corner. Since the vaccine takes two weeks to set in, getting vaccinated now can protect you when it’s most rampant.
How the Flu Vaccine Can Benefit You
Flu vaccinations defend against the four influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. They protect your body by inducing an immunological response. This creates antibodies against the virus. This year’s flu shot reportedly provides 50% efficacy against the major flu strain. Getting the shot doesn’t mean you won’t have the flu at some point this season. But it does significantly reduce your chances of catching a severe case.
Most flu vaccines are administered through a needle, generally in the arm. For those who fear needles, there is also the option for a nasal spray vaccine. Research has shown that getting the flu vaccination and a Covid injection simultaneously is perfectly safe.
Protect Your Loved Ones by Getting Vaccinated
Whether you’ve already had the flu, currently have it, or are trying to avoid it, we all just want to stay healthy this season. That’s why taking preventative measures and recognizing early flu symptoms is essential. So take care this holiday season and avoid gatherings if you detect an illness. And for those who haven’t gotten a flu vaccination yet—make an appointment as soon as you can!