COVID, flu, RSV or strep? How to know which you have

(NEXSTAR) – If everyone you know is falling victim to illness this season, there’s any number of widely circulating viruses – or even bacteria – that could be to blame.

Respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, RSV and the flu, are trending upward nationwide. Strep throat, which is caused by bacteria, is also more common in the winter and spring. Not to mention, rhinoviruses, also known as the common cold, circulate year-round.

When you start to feel sick, it can be hard to tell what’s the blame, and how you should seek treatment.

Using information from Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’ve created a chart that compares the illnesses at a glance.

But remember while examining your symptoms is a good place to start, doctors recommend getting tested to help inform next steps. You can use a COVID test at home, and get tested for flu, RSV and strep at a doctor’s office.

Symptom COVID-19 RSV Flu Strep
Loss of taste/smell Sometimes Rare Rare Not common
Trouble breathing Sometimes (can be severe) Common Not common Not common
Cough Common (usually dry) Common Common (can be severe) Not common
Sneezing Not common Common Rare Not common
Fever Common Common Common Common
Runny/stuffy nose Sometimes Common Sometimes Not common
Sore throat Sometimes Common Sometimes Common
Fatigue Sometimes Sometimes Common Sometimes
Headaches Sometimes Rare Common Sometimes
Body aches Sometimes Rare Common Sometimes
Diarrhea/nausea/vomiting Sometimes Rare Sometimes Sometimes
(Information from Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Another difference between the illnesses described above is how quickly symptoms come on and how long they stick around.

COVID-19 symptoms often start slow, then escalate quickly, according to Children’s National. Most people see symptoms resolve in about a week, but some can feel lingering effects for weeks or even months.

RSV symptoms can also start mild before getting more serious. Most people feel better in a week or two, according to the CDC, but young infants and the elderly are most vulnerable. In some cases, they may need to be hospitalized to be treated.

The flu, unlike the other two viruses, usually comes on abruptly. For the majority of people who get it, they’ll feel better in a few days. However, some people develop complications, such as pneumonia, and therefore experience more severe illness.

With strep, symptoms usually resolve within a day or two of starting antibiotics.

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