How to differentiate between Coronavirus and RSV

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Coronavirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are two kinds of respiratory illnesses that have some similar symptoms.

As reports of an increase in RSV continue to rise, it’s important to understand the differences, and know how to spot it.

So far Covid-19 appears to be more dangerous for adults, especially older ones. RSV is riskier for young children, but it can also be serious for older people and those who have other health problems.

Though COVID-19 can affect children, adults make up most of the cases diagnosed so far. Adults are also more likely to have serious symptoms from the coronavirus, especially if they’re over 65 or have a condition like diabetes, lung disease, or heart disease.

RSV can also affect people of ages, but it’s especially common in infants and young children. By age 2, nearly every child will have been infected. Most cases are mild. But some children are more likely to get seriously ill, including:

  • Infants 6 months or younger
  • Babies who were born early
  • Children under 2 with chronic lung or heart disease
  • Children with a weak immune system
  • Children who have trouble swallowing

Both illnesses spread the same way: Someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, sending droplets containing the virus into the air. You can get sick if the droplets land on you, or if you touch a surface that has the virus on it and then put your fingers in your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Comparing Symptoms

Both COVID-19 and RSV are respiratory viruses that affects the lungs. RSV can also cause pneumonia, inflammation of airways and respiratory failure. Symptoms as:

  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

Children with coronavirus often have mild symptoms. Some have no symptoms at all. Adults with COVID-19 often also notice shortness of breath. Their symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.

Along with cold-like symptoms, RSV causes:

  • Appetite loss
  • Sneezing
  • Trouble breathing (shortness of breath or wheezing) in kids and adults
  • Crankiness (in young children)

RSV can also lead to more serious problems like:

  • Bronchiolitis, which causes swelling in the small air sacs in the lungs
  • Pneumonia, a lung infection

How Serious Is RSV?

Because RSV can turn serious quickly, speak to one of our doctors, or your regular GP if your child:

  • Has symptoms like a runny nose, fever, and cough and is less than 6 months old
  • Runs a fever of 100.4 F and is under 6 months old, or has a fever over 104 F at any age
  • Is wheezing or breathing quickly
  • Doesn’t eat or drink much
  • Isn’t as alert or active as usual
  • Wets fewer than 1 nappy every 8 hours, which could be a sign of dehydration

Distinguishing between Covid-19 and RSV can also be difficult, with many symptoms overlapping, but often, with a good history and a full physical, a proper diagnosis is possible.

Managing RSV

There are many different ways to treat RSV, and treatments depend on the severity of the infection. Over-the-counter medication can help bring down a fever and fluids can help rehydrate the body. Humidification is often used to thin the mucus and open the airways, oxygen helps with breathing, and saline solution and albuterol (inhaler) have also been successful. 

However, no available treatment shortens the course of RSV bronchiolitis or hastens the resolution of symptoms, but supportive care with hydration and careful monitoring of respiratory status is the primary management to alleviate symptoms in the patient.

Hospitalisation for supplemental oxygen and, if necessary, ventilation is very rare.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, what is recommended, is that you do not take your child to an A&E unit, or your local GP practise without first calling to let them know, and to get a physicians assessment.

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