COVID, RSV, flu: what’s the difference?

Cases of respiratory infections are on the rise across Canada as the country deals with what health officials call the “triple threat” of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the latest respiratory virus surveillance report showed that the positivity rate for tests to detect influenza A was 6.44% for the week of October 29, compared to 2.66 % the previous week. the week. The test positivity rate for RSV was 7.0% in Canada, up from 4.74% the previous week.

The upsurge in infections has also strained hospital capacity, particularly in pediatric hospitals. In Ontario, hospitals are even being asked to admit teenage patients to adult intensive care units.

Meanwhile, pharmacies across Canada are also facing a shortage of cough syrup and cold medicine, especially medicine for children.

Here’s how the three infections vary and what parents need to know during this viral wave.


It can be difficult to tell if your child has caught COVID-19, RSV, or the flu, as all three share many of the same symptoms.

“These are respiratory viruses, all three, that transmit in very similar ways and are prevented in terms of preventing their transmission in very similar ways,” Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Center, told CTV News. .ca by phone on Thursday.

“All of these illnesses could potentially lead to hospitalizations. All of these diseases can have significant morbidity and mortality, with COVID leading, followed by RSV, followed by influenza,” he added.

According to Health Canada, flu symptoms usually appear between one and four days after exposure, usually in the form of fever, cough and muscle aches. Other common symptoms may include headache, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore throat, and runny nose. For children, symptoms can also include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

RSV symptoms also include runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and fever, according to Health Canada, and children and immunocompromised people are most at risk. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says symptoms usually appear within four to six days of infection. In very young infants, symptoms of RSV can include irritability, decreased activity and difficulty breathing, according to the CDC.

For COVID-19, Health Canada’s list of symptoms includes sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, loss of smell or taste, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting.

The incubation period of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is usually much longer than that of RSV or influenza virus. Symptoms usually appear within three to seven days of exposure, but it can take up to 14 days.

Conway notes that it can be difficult to identify specific symptoms in children. Health Canada recommends talking to a health care provider if parents notice that their children are irritable, not eating or drinking as usual, or not waking up and interacting with others.

“In children, obviously, the symptoms are often not as specific because children are not able to tell us what is wrong in as much detail as adults and they usually feel very bad,” he said. he declares.


Doctors and health officials agree that the best way to prevent COVID-19 and influenza infections is to get vaccinated, especially now that the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine and influenza vaccine are available. widely available across Canada.

“The flu shot, which is going around right now, seems to fit the vaccine very well. We therefore anticipate that it will have a strong protective effect against the need for hospitalization,” said Dr. Kieron Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer. , CP24 said on Wednesday.

The flu vaccine is available for children as young as six months old. The new bivalent vaccines are only available for people 12 years of age and older, although monovalent booster vaccines are still available for anyone aged six months and older.

Currently, there is no vaccine available for RSV, although Pfizer says its clinical trial for a new RSV vaccine is showing positive results. Since RSV is spread primarily through droplets and can survive on surfaces for several hours, Conway says regular hand washing can still go a long way.

“We really need to keep washing our hands like we have learned to do over the past two years. I think that helped us a lot. And I think daycares, schools, etc. should have hand sanitizer available and that it should be part of our normalcy,” he said.

Although mask mandates have almost entirely disappeared in Canada, choosing to wear a mask can also help prevent the transmission of any respiratory infectious disease. Some experts, like the former head of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, have even called for the return of mask mandates in public spaces.

If your child ends up getting sick with RSV, COVID-19, or the flu, experts agree they should stay home until they feel better. Conway also recommends keeping a mask on in public for the next few days after recovering.

“I’m very supportive of wearing the mask for several days after returning to your usual daily activities,” he said. “I think that’s probably a good idea because there may be some residual transmission.”

With CP24 files.

COVID, RSV, flu: what’s the difference? – News 24