Flu season is back this year.
After Covid wiped out most other respiratory illnesses in 2020 and 2021, more known viruses are returning this year at a rate officials haven’t seen in years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recording high levels of both influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) this flu season.
Experts have described this wave as the worst the country has faced since the 2009 swine flu epidemic.
Covid is also still lingering. The US averages 49,070 daily infections and 274 deaths.
In Los Angeles, officials are even considering returning an indoor mask mandate amid a recent spike in cases.
Each of these respiratory viruses has many symptoms in common and can easily be mistaken for one another.
But they also have unique symptoms that set them apart.
So since all three illnesses can affect people in a similar way, here’s the guide to telling what’s really behind your runny nose, cough, or pain.
Graph shows: Often (green tick), occasionally (orange circle) and never (red cross) symptoms of cold, hay fever and Covid
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
The oft-overlooked RSV has taken the US by storm this fall, circulating widely among children and filling hospitals across the country.
The CDC reports that the virus infected 15,843 Americans in the week ending Nov. 19.
It is most dangerous for young children and causes between 300 and 500 deaths per year, according to the CDC.
The respiratory virus is also a danger to adults over the age of 65, although less so than Covid or the flu.
The leading government agency reports that a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath are typical symptoms of the virus.
Although children often also have fever and loss of appetite when infected, these symptoms are rarer in adults with symptomatic RSV cases.
Unlike other respiratory viruses, RSV does not cause significant stomach problems.
Symptoms such as loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are not usually associated with the condition.
People with gastrointestinal problems are likely suffering from another non-Covid respiratory illness.
While a person suffering from RSV may sometimes experience pain or fatigue during the day, officials say these symptoms are rarer.
In the most serious cases, a young child may develop an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs – called bronchiolitis – or pneumonia – an infection of the lungs.
Los Angeles warns it could reinstate indoor MASK MANDATE within weeks as Covid cases rise
Masks are poised to become mandatory in indoor Los Angeles venues 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 activated. In previous cases, the time limit was set at 14 days.
Los Angeles County is recording 3,186 Covid infections daily, a big increase from the 1,000 daily cases recorded in early November. It also records eight deaths every day.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, LA County public health director, said on Thursday the town was moving from “low” to “medium” Covid transmission. If trends in cases and hospitalizations continue, next week will be “high,” she warned.
“We’d come back and say our healthcare system is getting stressed, we need to slow transmission,” said Dr. Ferrer at a press conference Thursday.
She didn’t specify when exactly the masks would return, but rather stated a two-week timeline.
“We’re going to have to look at the rate of increase and what we see in terms of that to decide what that time frame is [to reinstate masks] would be,” she added.
The province of Southern California, which is home to nearly 10 million residents, only dropped its order for masks in March.
At the start of the pandemic, people were told to watch for three warning signs of Covid: loss of taste or smell, persistent cough and fever.
But as new variants evolved and vaccines and repeated waves blunted the threat of the virus, the official list of symptoms continued to grow.
Officials now recognize 12 symptoms linked to Covid.
According to the UK ZOE symptom tracking study, the most commonly reported signs of the virus are now a runny nose (66 per cent), sore throat (65 per cent), headache (64 per cent), persistent cough (63 per cent) and fatigue. (62 percent).
But because of the range of symptoms and the high prevalence of the virus, Professor Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London who led the study, is encouraging people to get tested anyway.
The virus is still circulating in America, but not nearly at the same rate as in previous winters.
The country is recording about 50,000 infections every day, half of them in early December 2021.
The most unique feature of Covid is the complete loss of smell or taste known as anosmia, which is rarely reported with the common cold and hay fever.
Harvard University researchers published a study in July 2020 showing that 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 the nose, experts say.
Of the newer symptoms listed for Covid, only diarrhea and nausea or vomiting are unique to the virus and not also caused by RSV or the common cold.
It suggests that if you have these and a cough, it may well be Covid.
Officials are instructing people to stay home and avoid contact with other people if they have symptoms of Covid.
Colds can affect people all year round, but are most common in winter.
Two years of lockdowns have lowered people’s immunity to the common cold. This had led to a flurry of colds across America this year as experts warn that the “immune naive” population is ripe for the virus to circulate indoors.
The CDC reported 32,733 new flu cases during the week ending Nov. 26 — the highest number of the 2022 season.
Coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and sneezing are the most common symptoms caused by the hundreds of viruses that cause the common cold.
Pain, fever, headache, fatigue and loss of appetite can also be telltale signs, while loss of taste or smell is also an occasional symptom.
The absence of swollen puffy eyes may be a sign that you actually have a cold rather than a seasonal allergy.
Meanwhile, having diarrhea, nausea, or shortness of breath on top of the previous symptoms could indicate that it’s actually Covid rather than a simple cold you’re experiencing.
Symptoms are caused when one of 200 different viruses causes inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the nose and throat.
They’re not really 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 the warmer months, and are usually accompanied by sneezing and coughing, along with a sore throat, headache and sometimes a loss of taste and smell.
“You might consider taking pain relievers to relieve pain or relieve a stuffy nose with a decongestant nasal spray or decongestant tablets.”