Flu season is back this year with a vengeance.
After Covid wiped out a majority of other respiratory illnesses in 2020 and 2021, more familiar viruses are returning this year at rates officials haven’t seen in years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recording high levels of both the influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this flu season.
Experts have described this surge as the worst the nation has faced since the 2009 Swine Flu epidemic.
Covid is still lingering as well. The US is averaging 49,070 daily infections and 274 deaths.
In Los Angeles, officials are even mulling over the return of an indoor mask mandate amid a recent spike in cases.
Each of these respiratory viruses share many symptoms and can easily be mistaken for one-another.
But they also have unique symptoms that differentiate them from one-another.
So, given all three illnesses can blight people in a similar fashion, here is the guide to tell what’s really behind your runny nose, cough or aches and pains.
Graph shows: Common (green tick), occasional (orange circle) and never (red cross) symptoms of the common cold, hay fever and Covid
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
The oft-overlook RSV has taken the US by storm this fall, circulating widely through children and causing hospitals across the country to fill.
The CDC reports the virus infected 15,843 Americans during the week that ended on November 19.
It is most dangerous to young children, causing between 300 to 500 deaths each year according to the CDC.
The respiratory virus is also a danger to adults over the age of 65, though less to than Covid or influenza.
The leading public agency reports that a runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath are typical symptoms of the virus.
While children will often also suffer a fever and loss of appetite when infected, these symptoms are more rare among adults with symptomatic RSV cases.
Unlike other respiratory viruses, RSV does not come with significant stomach issues.
Symptoms like loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are usually not associated with the condition.
People who are suffering gastrointestinal issues are likely suffering another non-Covid respiratory illness.
While a person suffering from RSV may sometimes suffer aches and pains or fatigue during the day, these symptoms are more rare, according to officials.
In the most severe cases, a young child could suffer inflammation of small airways in their lungs – called bronchiolitis – or pneumonia – infection of the lungs.
Los Angeles warns it could reinstate indoor MASK MANDATE within weeks as Covid cases rise
Mask are poised to become mandatory in indoor venues in Los Angeles in the coming weeks as Democratic officials panic over rising Covid cases.
The county’s Covid response policy states that after a period of ‘high’ Covid transmission, a mask mandate will be triggered. In previous instances the period was set for 14 days.
Los Angeles County is recording 3,186 daily Covid infections a large increase from the 1,000 daily cases recorded at the start of November. It is also recording eight deaths each day.
Dr Barbara Ferrer, LA County’s director of public health, said Thursday that the locality was moving from ‘low’ to ‘medium’ Covid transmission. If case and hospitalization trends continue, it will reach ‘high’ by next week, she warned.
‘We would be back to saying our health care system is getting stressed out, we need to slow down transmission,’ Dr Ferrer said during a news conference Thursday.
She did not specify when exactly the masks would return, but she had previously set a timeline of two weeks.
‘We’ll have to look at the rate of increase and what we’re seeing in terms of that to decide what that time frame [to reinstate masks] would be,’ she added.
The Southern California county, which is home to nearly 10million residents, only dropped its mask order in March.
At the start of the pandemic, people were told to watch out for three warning signs of Covid: a loss of taste or smell, a continuous cough and a fever.
But as new variants evolved and vaccines and repeated waves blunted the virus’s threat, the official symptom list continued to grow.
Officials now recognizes 12 symptoms associated with Covid.
According to the UK’s ZOE symptom-tracking study, the most commonly reported signs of the virus are now a runny nose (66 percent), sore throat (65 percent), headache (64 per cent), persistent cough (63 percent) and fatigue (62 percent).
But because of the range of symptoms and high prevalence of the virus, Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London, who led the study, encourages people to get a test anyway.
The virus is still circulating in America, but not at nearly the same rate as it has in previous winters.
The country is recording around 50,000 daily infections, half of the 100,000 being recorded in early December 2021.
Covid’s most unique feature is the loss of smell or taste completely, known as anosmia, which is rarely reported in colds and hay fever.
Harvard University researchers published a study in July 2020 showing the virus invades blood vessel cells and stem cells in the nose that provide energy to the nerves that transmit a sense of smell to the brain.
However, Omicron is less likely to cause the loss of taste or smell because the variant multiplies deeper in the lungs rather than in the nose, experts believe.
Of the newer symptoms listed for Covid, only diarrhea and nausea or vomiting are unique to the virus and not also caused by either RSV or the common cold.
It suggests if you have these as well as a cough, it may well be Covid.
Officials instruct people to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if they have symptoms of Covid.
The common cold can affect people all year round but is most prevalent over winter.
Two years of lockdowns have lowered people’s immunity to colds. This had led to a surge of colds across America this year, as experts warn the ‘immune naïve’ population is ripe for the virus to circulate in.
The CDC reported 32,733 new influenza cases during the week that ended on November 26 – the highest total of the 2022 season.
Coughs, sore throats, runny or blocked noses and sneezing are the most common symptoms caused by the hundreds of viruses that cause common colds.
Aches and pains, fever, headaches, fatigues and a loss of appetite can also be tell-tale signs, while losing taste or smell is also an occasional symptom.
The absence of swollen puffy eyes could be a sign you are actually experiencing a cold rather than the seasonal allergy.
Meanwhile, having diarrhea, nausea or shortness of breath on top of the prior symptoms could indicate it is actually Covid rather than a simple cold you are experiencing.
Symptoms are caused when any one of 200 viruses different viruses cause inflammation of the membranes that line the nose and throat.
They are not actually caused by cold weather, but the body is more susceptible to infection when the immune system is weaker — which can be caused by a drop in temperature.
Marc Donovan chief pharmacist at Boots UK told MailOnline: ‘Colds can still occur during warmer months, and usually involve sneezing and coughing, along with a sore throat, headache and sometimes a loss of taste and smell.
‘You could consider taking pain killers to help ease aches or relieve a blocked nose with a decongestant nasal spray or decongestant tablets.’