Flu season is back this year with a vengeance.
After Covid wiped out the majority of other respiratory illnesses in 2020 and 2021, more familiar viruses are returning this year at rates officials haven’t seen in years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recording high levels of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this flu season.
Experts have described the surge as the nation’s worst since the 2009 swine flu outbreak.
Covid also persists. The United States averages 49,070 daily infections and 274 deaths.
In Los Angeles, officials are even considering returning an indoor mask mandate amid a recent spike in cases.
Each of these respiratory viruses shares many symptoms and can easily be confused with one another.
But they also have unique symptoms that differentiate them from each other.
So, since all three illnesses can affect people equally, here’s the guide to find out what’s really behind your runny nose, cough, or aches.
The graph shows: common (green tick), occasional (orange circle) and never (red cross) symptoms of colds, hay fever and Covid
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
The often overlooked RSV took the United States by storm this fall, circulating widely among children and causing hospitals across the country to fill up.
The CDC reports that the virus infected 15,843 Americans in the week ending November 19.
It is most dangerous for young children, causing between 300 and 500 deaths each year according to the CDC.
The respiratory virus is also a danger for adults over 65, although less so than Covid or the flu.
The main public agency reports that a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath are typical symptoms of the virus.
Although children often suffer from fever and loss of appetite when infected, these symptoms are rarer in adults with symptomatic cases of RSV.
Unlike other respiratory viruses, RSV does not cause significant stomach problems.
Symptoms such as loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are usually not associated with the disease.
People who suffer from gastrointestinal problems probably suffer from another non-Covid respiratory disease.
While someone with RSV may sometimes experience pain or fatigue during the day, these symptoms are rarer, officials say.
In the most severe cases, a young child may suffer from inflammation of the small airways in their lungs – called bronchiolitis – or pneumonia – infection of the lungs.
Los Angeles warns it could reinstate indoor MASK MANDATE within weeks as Covid cases spike
Masks are set to become mandatory in indoor theaters across Los Angeles in the coming weeks as Democratic officials panic over rising Covid cases.
The county’s Covid response policy states that after a period of “high” Covid transmission, a mask mandate will be triggered. In previous instances, the period was set at 14 days.
Los Angeles County is recording 3,186 daily Covid infections, a sharp increase from the 1,000 daily cases recorded in early November. It also records eight deaths per day.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, LA County’s director of public health, said Thursday the locality was moving from “low” to “medium” Covid transmission. If the trends in cases and hospitalizations continue, they will reach a “high” level by next week, she warned.
“We would be back to saying our health care system is under stress, we need to slow transmission,” Dr Ferrer said at a press conference on Thursday.
She didn’t say exactly when the masks would return, but she had previously set a two-week deadline.
“We will have to look at the rate of increase and what we see in terms of that to decide what time frame [to reinstate masks] would be,” she added.
Southern California County, home to nearly 10 million people, only dropped its mask order in March.
At the start of the pandemic, people were told to watch out for three warning signs of Covid: loss of taste or smell, continuous cough and fever.
But as new variants evolved and vaccines and repeated waves lessened the threat of the virus, the official list of symptoms continued to grow.
Authorities now recognize 12 symptoms associated with Covid.
The most commonly reported signs of the virus are now a runny nose (66%), sore throat (65%), headache (64%), cough persistent (63%) and fatigue. (62 percent).
But due to the range of symptoms and the high prevalence of the virus, Professor Tim Spector, epidemiologist at King’s College London, who led the study, is encouraging people to get tested anyway.
The virus is still circulating in America, but not at nearly the same rate as previous winters.
The country is recording around 50,000 daily infections, with half of the 100,000 being recorded in early December 2021.
The most unique feature of Covid is the complete loss of smell or taste, known as anosmia, which is rarely reported in colds and hay fever.
Harvard University researchers published a study in July 2020 showing that the virus invades cells in blood vessels and stem cells in the nose that supply energy to the nerves that transmit smell to the brain.
However, Omicron is less likely to cause loss of taste or smell because the variant multiplies deeper in the lungs than in the nose, experts say.
Of the new symptoms listed for Covid, only diarrhea and nausea or vomiting are unique to the virus and not also caused by RSV or the common cold.
This suggests that if you have it as well as a cough, it could well be Covid.
Officials are asking people to stay home and avoid contact with other people if they have symptoms of Covid.
The common cold can affect people all year round, but it is more common in the winter.
Two years of confinement have reduced people’s immunity to colds. It has led to a wave of colds across America this year as experts warn the ‘immuno-naïve’ population is ripe for the virus to circulate.
The CDC reported 32,733 new flu cases in the week ending Nov. 26 — the highest total for the 2022 season.
Cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and sneezing are the most common symptoms caused by the hundreds of cold-causing viruses.
Body aches, fever, headache, fatigue and loss of appetite can also be telltale signs, while loss of taste or smell is also an occasional symptom.
The absence of puffy, puffy eyes could be a sign that you actually have a cold rather than a seasonal allergy.
During this time, having diarrhoea, nausea or shortness of breath in addition to the previous symptoms could indicate that it is in fact Covid rather than just a cold you are feeling.
Symptoms are caused when one of 200 different viruses causes inflammation of the membranes lining the nose and throat.
They are not actually caused by the cold, but the body is more susceptible to infections when the immune system is weaker, which can be caused by a drop in temperature.
Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots UK, told MailOnline: ‘Colds can still occur in the warmer months and usually involve sneezing and coughing, as well as a sore throat, headache and sometimes a loss of taste and smell.
“You may consider taking painkillers for pain or relieving a stuffy nose with a decongestant nasal spray or decongestant tablets.”
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