Claire Boogaard, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital shared in the “Rise and Shine Blog” the following scenario
Your child wakes up with a fever and stuffy nose. Is it the flu? Is it COVID-19? Or is it something else, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)? Unfortunately, right now, all three are possibilities. So how can you figure out what’s causing your child’s illness, and more importantly, what should you do about it?
The short answer is that the cause of your child’s infection might not always be clear. COVID-19, the flu and respiratory viruses such as RSV have similar symptoms. But there are a few differences that can help you determine why your child is sick.
What is the biggest difference between COVID-19, RSV, and the flu?
COVID-19 has many similarities to the flu and RSV because they are all contagious respiratory viruses that spread from person to person by droplets traveling through the air. But there are key differences as well:
- Children with COVID-19 may not have symptoms at all or may have a gradual onset of fever, congestion, cough and loss of taste and smell that last anywhere between seven and 28 days. Neither RSV nor the flu typically causes a loss of taste or smell, so if your child has these symptoms there’s a good chance they have COVID-19.
- Older children with RSV usually have minor symptoms similar to a cold. Younger kids and babies with RSV tend to have a slow onset of cold-like symptoms and then a sudden escalation. Symptoms last three to seven days.
- Most children who have the flu will experience a rapid onset of symptoms such as fever, cough, and runny nose, and these symptoms will last from five to seven days.
People with COVID-19 have reported a range of symptoms, and not everyone infected with the virus will have the same symptoms. Symptoms tend to appear from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and include:
- Body aches
- Loss of taste and/or smell
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Loss of taste or smell is unique to COVID-19 — it isn’t seen in any of the other illnesses — but it’s also important to know that many kids with COVID-19 never experience loss of taste or smell, so just because your child doesn’t have this symptom doesn’t mean they don’t have COVID-19.