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I'm a Virus Expert and Here are the Symptoms to Watch for Now With COVID, Flu and RSV

Learn what symptoms are sending people to the ER this flu season and how to stay healthy. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

COVID-19, the flu and RSV are striking at once, just as experts predicted, causing a major health concern for the United States. News of the tripledemic continues to dominate headlines with urgent warnings from health officials that this is the worst season they've witnessed in years. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters in a new briefing, "Especially for RSV and flu, these levels are higher than we generally see this time of year. She stated the flu season started earlier and "hospitalizations for flu continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade."

CBS News Miami reports, " The early intense flu season has increased demand for antiviral medications." Dr. Celine Gounder, CBS News Medical Contributor says, "If you're somebody who's older, if you have underlying medical conditions, you really should consider getting a prescription for an antiviral drug if you get the flu. These drugs have been shown to reduce the duration of illness, but really importantly, to reduce your likelihood of ending up in the hospital or even dying."

Cases continue to surge in many areas, but a few are starting to peak, however, 

experts are concerned about another potential uptick around the holidays. Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 20 years of direct patient care experience tells us, "Many families are gathering again for the holidays this year. While COVID vaccines are more prevalent, many may not be getting their annual flu shot. Hospitals are already filling up, and reducing the chance of illness is crucial."  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About this Flu Season

woman doctor check-up preventive care

John Mourani, MD, Infectious Disease Medical Director, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center says, "People should know that the flu can be very serious and deadly. On average, there are thirty thousand deaths yearly in the U.S. This year the flu season has started much earlier than usual."

Dr. Mark Fischer, Regional Medical Director at  International SOS adds some people at greater risk who need to be extra cautious, "According to the CDC, those who are at higher risk of flu complications include those 65 years of older, adults with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease & stroke, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, and women during a pregnancy. These groups are at a higher risk for severe flu cases due to weakened immune systems."


There's an Added Stress on the Healthcare System

sad young female doctor or nurse wearing face protective mask for protection

The CDC warns, "Seasonal influenza activity is high and continues to increase across the country" and says, "there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu." In addition, the CDC states, "The cumulative hospitalization rate in the FluSurv-NET system is higher than the rate observed in week 47 during every previous season since 2010-2011. The number of flu hospital admissions reported in the HHS Protect system during week 47 almost doubled compared with week 46."

Dr. Mourani emphasizes, "The season has started early and that includes influenza and other viruses like RSV all at the same time. There is an increased risk of stress on the health system, but we are better prepared to handle it." Marchese says, "Hospitals struggle to stay below capacity, and many patients fall ill from RSV, flu and COVID. Taking steps such as masking, hand washing and avoiding unnecessary exposure means an extra bed in the hospital that could be used for more critical illnesses."


Symptoms to Watch Out For

Sick woman holding her throat.

Dr. Mourani says, "Usual flu symptoms include fever, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, fatigue, and cough. If at risk for severe disease then should contact your doctor as soon as possible to start treatment. Best results if treatment is started within 48 hours of symptoms. If at risk for severe disease and has a confirmed prolonged exposure to someone who is positive, then contact your doctor as sometimes prophylactic treatment may be indicated." 

Marchese adds, "Symptoms that send people to the ER tend to be respiratory since many people are concerned with COVID. These can include shortness of breath, chest tightness, pain, lightheadedness and dizziness."


This is How Long Your Contagious For with the Flu

Woman outdoor with cold and handkerchief

According to Dr. Mourani, "The flu is most contagious in the first 3-4 days of symptoms, but it can start spreading one day before symptoms appear. It can spread for up to 7 days, and that depends on viral replication. People at increased risk for severe cases of the flu include adults 65 and older with comorbidities, like chronic lung and heart diseases and compromised immune systems, but also pregnant women and kids ages 5 and under.

The flu usually lasts around 5 -7 days. Rest and starting treatment early may help shorten the duration of symptoms. Usually rest, adequate fluid intake and symptomatic treatment like decongestants and pain medication can help ease the symptoms. Also Vitamin-C, zinc, tea, honey and many other home remedies may help alleviate some of the symptoms."


How to Avoid Getting Sick

Young woman taking a vaccine from her doctor.

Dr. Mourani advises, "The best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated. The vaccine may not be effective all the time, but it usually has an efficacy range of 30-50%, depending on the circulating viruses. Also, people can minimize the risk of contracting the influenza by avoiding contact with those who are sick and by frequent hand washing. There are treatments available for influenza and it is best to start the treatment in the first 48 hours of experiencing symptoms. This season there are vaccines for influenza and Covid-19 and I recommend that eligible people get vaccinated for both."

Marchese explains, "CDC guidelines throughout the pandemic have helped millions of people stay disease free through the pandemic. Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after touching shared surfaces or contact with others. Wear masks in crowded spaces indoors and outdoors. If you have symptoms of respiratory distress, stay isolated from others for at least a week. Realistically, people can avoid viruses this holiday season. Getting sick should be considered inevitable. Following guidelines and avoiding crowded events and spaces is the best way to avoid illness."  And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather