The Flu, COVID-19, and RSV: Oh My! How to Tell the Difference

Published On: January 9, 2024Categories: News
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Winter is officially here, which means so is flu season. However, winter is no longer solely “flu” season anymore. Not only are families across the U.S. battling the common cold and influenza but RSV has also been making itself known alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.

While each of these viruses can be serious, it’s important to know the difference between them, and that can be difficult when they share similar symptoms. To help you stay informed, here are the key differences between the flu, COVID-19, and RSV.

Loss of Taste or Smell

If you’re experiencing a loss of taste or smell, this is most likely related to COVID-19. Neither the flu nor RSV significantly impacts your sense of taste or smell, and the common cold only impacts taste/smell due to a stuffy nose.

Body Aches

RSV rarely causes body aches and pains, so if you’re experiencing these symptoms, you may most likely have either COVID-19 or the flu. However, while body aches are sometimes caused by COVID-19, they’re especially common with the various influenza strains.


Wheezing rarely occurs with the flu and COVID-19, but it’s especially common with RSV. This is because the virus causes inflammation of the airways, which results in a whistling sound when you exhale. While difficulty breathing is a common symptom of COVID-19 (and should be treated with emergency services if you’re experiencing it), wheezing is predominantly a sign of RSV. RSV can also cause difficulty breathing for this exact reason. Seek emergency treatment at your local ER if you’re struggling to breathe.


Both RSV and COVID-19 can sometimes cause fevers, so it’s important not to rule these illnesses out if you’re experiencing a fever. However, fevers are especially common with the flu. To help combat a fever, your primary care physicians may recommend over-the-counter fever reducers such as acetaminophen.

Get Vaccinated

To help combat these viruses this winter, it’s recommended to see your primary care physicians for your annual flu and COVID-19 vaccines. According to Medical News Today, when the flu vaccine is matched to current circulating viruses, it can reduce your flu risk by 40-60%. There is also now an RSV vaccine, which the CDC recommends for children aged 19 months and younger and adults aged 60 and older as well as pregnant people from week 32 through week 36 of their pregnancy. These vaccines can help your body defend itself against these viruses, so you can protect your health and the health of those around you.

For more information about these vaccines or to schedule yours with your primary care physicians, contact our healthcare services at Care Station Medical Group today. We also provide urgent care in the event that you need non-emergency treatment sooner rather than later.