Symptoms to watch and what parents need to know

It’s nothing new when a child comes home from school in November with a runny and stuffy nose or cough. But for parents right now, it feels extra high: Is it just a cold? The flu? Or are these telltale signs of RSV or COVID?

Why it matters: Some of the symptoms of the flu, respiratory virus and coronavirus are relatively similar, making it difficult for parents to distinguish between the illnesses as cases surge across the country.

  • And many Americans may be too COVID-weary to fret over the reality of a “triple pandemic,” reports Axios’ Adriel Bettelheim.

Zoom out: Care could also be impacted by the nationwide shortage of medical staff, which continues to exacerbate hospital workloads.

  • Here’s an overview of the symptoms of RSV, flu and COVID-19 in children – and what parents should know.
RSV symptoms in children
  • RSV is highly contagious and a common illness in children, with most having had RSV infection by their second birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Symptoms include a runny nose, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing, according to the CDC.
  • Most RSV infections go away within a week or two, but the CDC recommends parents call their doctor if their child is “having trouble breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or has worsening symptoms.”
  • Symptoms of RSV usually come on gradually and become apparent within 4 to 6 days of infection.
flu symptoms in children
  • Symptoms of the flu usually come on suddenly, which is perhaps the biggest difference from RSV, according to Health Partners.
  • Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.
  • According to, fly symptoms typically develop about 1 to 4 days after coming into contact with a sick person.

  • “Even healthy children can get very sick from the flu,” the CDC warns.
  • The CDC says parents should take their children to the emergency room if they are experiencing symptoms such as rapid or shortness of breath, bluish lips or face, ribs that suck in with each breath, and chest pain.
COVID-19 Symptoms in Children
  • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 in children are fever and cough, but children can also experience a sore throat, headache, fatigue, or gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the CDC.

Be smart: One of the best ways to keep your family safe is to keep up to date with your flu and COVID vaccinations.

  • The CDC also recommends parents get their child tested if they develop symptoms, as it’s the best way to tell if it’s the flu or COVID-19.

go deeper… Threat of ‘tripledemic’ looms with RSV, COVID and flu

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