Winter is coming! Famous phrase from the TV series Game of Thrones that many people are familiar with. However, in reality, the winter season is just around the corner, and we are still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. With the onset of winter, many of us may experience symptoms such as a sore throat and sneezing. This is because fall and winter are considered upper respiratory virus seasons, as many different illnesses usually see an increase in cases during this time.
You might wonder about the meaning behind your symptoms. Is it COVID-19, RSV, the flu, or simply a common cold?
“These are all respiratory viruses. Very hard to tell them apart clinically. Clinically, they can look identical, and we’re getting into what’s known as respiratory virus season.”Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles with US today.
Respiratory Virus Season
Respiratory virus season typically commences in September and stretches through April. Recent CDC data has shown a spike in COVID-19 test positivity rates in August and September. Brewer anticipates RSV and flu infection rates will rise in the coming months.
Differentiating COVID-19, Flu, RSV, and the Common Cold
Differentiating between COVID-19, the flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and the common cold can be a challenging task due to the overlap in symptoms. While many of the early signs like fever, runny nose, sore throat, coughing, and general fatigue are common among these respiratory illnesses, there are specific markers to help distinguish them:
- Breathing Difficulty
One of the key distinguishing features is the onset of breathing difficulties. Difficulty breathing is more commonly associated with COVID-19, especially in severe cases. Shortness of breath, a feeling of chest tightness, or oxygen saturation levels dropping are indicative of COVID-19 and not typical symptoms of the flu, RSV, or the common cold.
- Loss of Taste or Smell
An interesting but relatively rare symptom is the loss of taste or smell. This sensory loss is more commonly linked to COVID-19, with the flu, common cold, and RSV rarely causing such an effect.
These differences highlight the importance of paying close attention to specific symptoms when identifying the respiratory illness one might be experiencing. It’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper assessment and testing if these distinguishing features become apparent.
Does Cold Weather Make You Sick?
No, Actually, Cold weather itself doesn’t make people sick. The lower temperatures create an environment that fosters the survival and transmission of these viruses.
All the viruses causing the flu, COVID-19, RSV, and the common cold thrive in colder conditions. However, a significant reason for increased illnesses during winter is that people spend more time indoors, where viruses can quickly spread.
The Importance of Testing and Vaccinating
Given the similarity of symptoms, testing to determine the specific virus can be helpful, especially if you’ve been in close contact with others. People vaccinated or previously infected with COVID-19 tend to have better immunity, reducing the severity of their illness.
While COVID-19 might resemble the flu for many healthy individuals, it poses significant health risks to older adults. Elders, those with underlying health conditions, and immunocompromised individuals can be at higher risk. The impact of COVID-19 has been far more severe in these groups compared to the flu.
Brewer advises getting the flu shot as early as possible since it takes time to build protection. October is a good target month. Those eligible for COVID-19 boosters should also ensure they are up-to-date with vaccination recommendations.
Winter is coming
As we move into colder weather, it’s important to remember that these viruses will remain prevalent. Expect an increase in cases, but we can navigate the season safely by following preventive measures and staying informed.