With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it can be challenging to know whether you have the flu, a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, or COVID-19.

The symptoms of these viruses can be similar, making it even more challenging to know what level of care you may require.

Let’s discuss some key differences, symptoms to watch out for, and treatment options.


COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is a respiratory illness that can range from mild to severe.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell. Other symptoms may include fatigue, body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion, or runny nose.

This virus typically has an average incubation period of five days from exposure. However, newer variants can become symptomatic in three days.

The flu

The flu, or influenza, is a viral respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus.

Common flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, and fatigue. Other symptoms may include runny or stuffy nose, chills, and muscle or body aches. Signs of the flu usually begin quickly, often one day after exposure.

The flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening, especially for older adults, young children, and those with weakened immune systems.


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a highly contagious virus common in young children but can also affect adults, especially older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

RSV is a leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections, such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

Common symptoms of RSV often present, like the common cold, and include cough, runny nose, and low-grade fever. In severe cases, RSV can cause wheezing, rapid breathing, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms of RSV generally present four to six days after exposure.


Since many symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV are similar, the most accurate diagnosis requires laboratory testing.

Most clinics, 24 hour urgent care centers, and hospitals have combination tests for all three viruses. A laboratory test can be done by collecting a sample of your saliva, throat swab, or nasal swab.

Treatment options

There is no cure for COVID-19, but treatment is available to help relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment for COVID-19 may include rest, hydration, and medications to relieve symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary. A vaccine is also available for COVID-19, which can help prevent infection or reduce symptoms.

A vaccine is also available for the flu, which can help prevent infection. The flu can be treated with antiviral medications, which can help to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Antiviral medications can also reduce the risk of complications from the flu, such as pneumonia. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

RSV is typically treated with supportive care, such as rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary. Currently, there is no vaccine available for RSV.

Bottom line

A 24-hour urgent care center can be valuable for diagnosing COVID-19, the flu, or RSV. These centers can provide rapid and accurate testing for these respiratory illnesses, helping to quickly determine the cause of symptoms.

By utilizing a 24-hour urgent care center, individuals can receive prompt and effective care for their respiratory illness, helping to minimize the risk of complications and speed up recovery.

Common services provided by urgent care centers include in-person & virtual care for cold and flu symptoms, allergic reactions, physical examinations, and more.




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