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Tis the Season… Cold, Flu, COVID-19, and RSV


By Margaret Adams, BSN

The media has recently been reporting the increase in hospitalizations for people with the flu and children with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). The surge in these illnesses is expected during the late fall and winter seasons primarily because people are indoors and in close contact with each other.  Colds, flu, and COVID-19 are upper respiratory viral infections. The virus is airborne and inhaled into the respiratory system and can be spread by touching surfaces that contain the germs of an infected person and then touching the mouth, eyes, or nose. Viruses mutate and change throughout the season. Lower respiratory infections include pneumonia, bronchitis, and bronchiolitis in children. These infections can be caused by viruses and bacteria.

Here are the tools needed to help manage respiratory symptoms at home. Most importantly, every household should have at least one thermometer to check for and monitor fevers. Households should keep on hand acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (i.e. Motrin) for fever and pain. A pulse oximeter on hand to check oxygen levels is also helpful. Rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are recommended. The preventive measure of flu and COVID-19 vaccines cannot be overlooked. The flu vaccine has been around for decades and has been effective in decreasing how badly a person gets the flu. The COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective. The pneumonia vaccine is recommended especially for seniors. Handwashing is meant to stop the spread of infection. Wearing a mask is a way of protecting you and reducing your chances of getting or spreading infection.

Symptoms to help you decide what you may have:

Cold – appears slowly over 2-3 days. Symptoms can include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, and mucus that starts clear but turns white, yellow, or green after 2-3 days.  Fever is rare.

Flu – feels like you’ve been hit by a truck suddenly, with fever and chills, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, headache, and fatigue.

Covid – fever or chills, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, runny or stuffy nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

It is important to start treating symptoms of runny nose, cough, and sore throat when they first begin. It is equally important to REST and DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS to stay hydrated and limit contact with others as much as possible. Most cold and flu symptoms will resolve on their own within 2 weeks.  If your symptoms worsen or don’t improve after two weeks, the next step is to call your healthcare institution for advice.  Cleveland Clinic has a 24-hour nurse line (800-801-2273) and MetroHealth’s nurse line is 216-778-7878. For adults, UH recommends calling your primary care provider’s office or one of its Urgent Care sites; for children’s symptoms, they recommend calling 216-844-7264.

People with health conditions such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, diabetes, heart conditions, and obesity are more easily infected, and have a more challenging time recovering. Smoking cigarettes, marijuana, inhaling chemicals at work, or household chemicals can increase the risk of getting respiratory infections.  If there is no space for people to quarantine themselves, infections may spread throughout the household. This in turn may cause people to miss work or school.

The goal is to be prepared by knowing your risk and the symptoms of the various respiratory infections, having tools at home to relieve symptoms, and knowing when to call your healthcare provider. Let’s make this season as healthy as possible!