Debra Kane Hill, MBA, RN, Senior Patient Safety Risk Manager
If there is any good news, it is that the guidance is similar for controlling or minimizing the spread of these three contagious respiratory illnesses. While there is no vaccine for RSV, vaccines are readily available for COVID-19 and the flu. The bad news is that all three illnesses have similar symptoms, and testing must be performed for each to effectively confirm a correct diagnosis.
Understanding the differences between the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 will help prevent misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis when patients present with respiratory symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers information on differential diagnosis between the three viruses, and the CDC provides specific guidance on distinguishing between the flu and COVID. General information about each virus is available from the CDC for practitioners as follows: flu, RSV, and COVID-19. The CDC addresses signs and symptoms, incubation periods, length of time for spreading the viruses, how the viruses spread, individuals at higher risk for severe illness, potential complications, and approved treatments.
During flu season, it is possible that all three of the viruses may spread at the same time. Patients could become infected with one or all of the diseases. To counter this possibility, it is important to continue offering appropriate screening, testing, and vaccinations. Refer to the CDC’s guidance “Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2022-2023 Season.” Note that both flu and COVID vaccines may be given on the same day if patients are eligible and vaccines follow the appropriate administration schedule.
The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.