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RSV, Flu, or COVID-19?

RSV, Flu, or COVID-19?

Fremont Pediatrician Shines a Light on Respiratory Diseases and Your Child’s Risk

If you follow the news, you have no doubt heard how respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases are filling pediatric units in hospitals across the country. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, RSV is nothing new – in fact RSV is so widespread that almost all children will have an RSV infection by their second birthday – but this year the virus came earlier and hit harder than in most years. What exactly is RSV, how is it different from COVID-19 or influenza (also known as the flu), and who is at risk?

“RSV has always been here,” said Dr. Bhaskari Peela, a pediatrician with Washington Township Medical Foundation. “We usually see it from October to February, similar to the flu. Anyone can get RSV, but we mostly see it in children. It causes a respiratory tract infection that can be serious for young babies and preemies, and children with chronic heart and lung diseases like asthma. The elderly, transplant patients and those who are immunocompromised are also at risk.”

Dr. Peela said COVID-19, RSV and the flu are all respiratory diseases, each caused by a different RNA virus. They have similar symptoms, which can make it hard to tell them apart. “One big difference is body aches,” she added. “Muscle pain or body aches are common with flu and COVID-19, but not RSV.”

Other common symptoms for all three include cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, runny nose, headache, sneezing and loss of appetite. There is a test available that can determine whether your child has RSV, flu or COVID-19. Dr. Peela encourages parents to get their child tested if they think the child might have come in contact with one of these viruses. Testing is done at the Washington West drive-up tent by appointment only. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 510.248.8200.

Treated at Home

Most of the time these respiratory diseases can be treated at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications that control fever, pain and other symptoms, explained Dr. Peela. Healthy adults and babies infected with RSV don’t usually need to be hospitalized. But some people with RSV infection, especially older adults and younger infants, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated. People who have severe symptoms from COVID-19 or the flu may also need to be hospitalized.

“With all of these respiratory diseases, you should talk to your pediatrician and seek medical care if you can’t control the fever, your child is experiencing rapid breathing, they aren’t eating, or you are seeing signs of dehydration,” Dr. Peela advised. “There are medications your pediatrician can prescribe like Tamiflu for the flu.”

Prevention is Key

COVID-19, the flu and RSV are all contagious diseases that are spread through droplets in the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks; direct contact like kissing your child; or by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth or eyes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“RSV is very contagious because it can survive on surfaces for a long time,” Dr. Peela said. “COVID-19 is thought to be more contagious than the flu. But we have vaccines for both COVID-19 and the flu that are very effective at preventing serious complications. People who are vaccinated tend to have much milder symptoms if they do get sick. Children as young as 6 months old can get a flu and COVID-19 vaccine.”

In addition to the vaccine, she said it’s important for you and your child to practice other preventive steps as well like wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, covering your mouth when you cough, and staying home when you are sick.

“It’s the time of year when people want to gather together, and your children may be getting invited to parties,” Dr. Peela added. “It’s hard, but you have to keep your kids home if they are sick.”

For information about Washington Township Medical Foundation’s pediatric services, visit