Is it the Flu, RSV or COVID-19?

Is it the Flu, RSV or COVID-19?

Respiratory season is in full swing, and because some of the viruses swirling around cause similar symptoms, many parents are wondering what to expect, what their child might have or catch and when to visit the pediatrician for testing or treatment.

We sat down with Dr. Emily Gannon, a general pediatrician at Le Bonheur Pediatrics. She breaks down the differences between the flu, RSV and COVID-19 and offers guidance for when to seek care for your child.


The flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu typically peaks between the months of December and February. However, influenza activity in our area began to rise significantly in October. The Southeast and South Central areas of the United States have the highest activity.

“Protect yourself and your children,” says Dr. Gannon. “With kids back in school this winter, it is very important to get them vaccinated.”

Vaccination not only helps prevent the virus but it also helps prevent serious outcomes requiring hospitalization in those who get sick with the flu.

Symptoms of the flu include high fevers, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, fatigue, headaches and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea. If you child is showing any of these symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician so your child can be tested for the flu.

If diagnosed within a certain time frame (typically less than 48 hours from the time symptoms begin), treatment for the flu includes Tamiflu and Xofluza (only recommended for children 5-12 years who do not have any medical conditions, and for all people aged 12 years or older). Otherwise, treatment for the flu is mainly supportive care and the treatment of individual symptoms that each child has.


While we are entering another winter season with COVID-19, it is important to remain up to date on the CDC guidelines for quarantine and isolation. Much like the influenza vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters help protect against the virus and decrease the serious side effects of the virus, with the goal of keeping children out of the hospital. At this time, the CDC recommends a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone ages 6 months and older. 

Most families have experienced COVID-19 by this point. Given the variants that have occurred since 2020, it will come as no surprise the symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person. The most common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, congestion, sore throat, body aches, headaches, loss of smell or taste and fatigue.

While most treatment remains supportive, there are some antiviral and monoclonal antibody treatments now available for people 12 years and older.  


The flu and COVID-19 are not the only respiratory viruses to be on the look out for. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common respiratory virus. It is common during the winter months. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States.

The most common symptoms of RSV include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, decrease in appetite, fever and wheezing. RSV is notorious for causing very thick nasal secretions; thus, sometimes the only symptoms in very young infants are irritability and breathing difficulties. RSV typically "peaks” between days three and five of the illness and then slowly start to improve.

Call your pediatrician if your child is having difficulty breathing including breathing too fast, moving their chest to breathe or grunting.

Additionally, the thick nasal secretions that RSV causes leads to your child having to breathe through their mouth. If your child, especially a younger infant, has to breathe through their mouth, your child may not eat and drink like normal. The main concern then becomes dehydration. One way to help assess your child’s hydration status is urine output. If your child has not had 4-6 diapers in 24 hours call your pediatrician to have them examined.

Tips for Safely Navigating this Season

  • Get the flu shot and stay current on the COVID-19 vaccine and boosters available.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
  • Follow CDC guidelines for health and safety.

Call Your Pediatrician

  • If you cannot control a fever with over the counter medication or fevers lasting longer than five days
  • If your child has any signs of trouble breathing
  • If your child has a decrease in urine output
  • If there is anything that arises with your child that is of concern to you

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