FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Fevers and sniffles and coughs—oh my! Viruses like COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are more common during the winter months. These viruses can cause severe illness in some people, so it’s important to know what to do if you feel under the weather.
“If you feel sick, contact your health care provider as soon as possible,” said Col. John Verghese, chief, Clinical Oversight and Integration, TRICARE Health Plan. “Getting a diagnosis is key to starting the right treatment. It can also help you take the right steps to preventing the spread of illness to others.”
There’s a lot to know about COVID-19, flu, and RSV. Read on for an overview of diagnosing, treating, and preventing these viruses.
What Do My Symptoms Mean?
People of all ages can catch COVID-19, flu, and RSV. These viruses all have similar symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can’t tell the difference between COVID-19 and flu by symptoms alone. This is because some of their symptoms are the same. Common symptoms shared by these viruses include:
- Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Diarrhea (more frequent in children with flu, but can occur in any age with COVID-19)
- Change in or loss of taste or smell (more frequent with COVID-19)
Compared to people with flu, people with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods of time, says the CDC. Additionally, COVID-19 symptoms may change when new variants emerge. It’s also possible for people with previous COVID-19 infections to be reinfected and become severely ill.
RSV symptoms typically start within four to six days after getting infected. Symptoms usually appear in stages, not all at once. People infected with RSV usually show these symptoms:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
RSV may cause a different set of symptoms in infants less than six months old. If you have a young infant, watch for irritability, decreased activity and appetite, and trouble breathing.
What Should I Do If I Get Sick?
If you or a family member starts to feel sick, contact your primary care provider or the Military Health System Nurse Advice Line for guidance on testing and treatment.
Your provider will decide if you need to be tested for COVID-19, flu, or RSV. TRICARE covers medically necessary lab tests—including COVID-19, flu, and RSV tests—at no cost when they’re ordered by a TRICARE-authorized provider or a provider at a military hospital or clinic. TRICARE also covers medically necessary at-home COVID-19 tests if they’re FDA-approved and ordered by a TRICARE-authorized provider. You may also be eligible to order a set of at-home COVID-19 tests free of charge from the U.S. Postal Service. If your household received test kits through this program before December 2022, you may participate again.
Depending on your diagnosis, your provider may also prescribe you prescription drugs or recommend over-the-counter drugs to help manage your symptoms.
In addition to following your provider’s recommendations, follow the tips below to avoid spreading illness.
How Can I Prevent the Spread of Viruses?
There are many ways you can help to prevent catching and spreading viruses. You can take these steps when you feel well or sick:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you’re sick, except when getting medical care.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
If you think you have COVID-19 or you test positive for it, follow CDC recommendations for isolation and precautions. Remember, if you test positive for COVID-19 but you don’t have symptoms, it’s still possible to spread the virus.
Vaccination remains a key tool for preventing and reducing the severity of COVID-19 and flu. Learn more about TRICARE coverage for COVID-19 vaccines—including boosters—and flu vaccines. There is no vaccine for RSV.
CDC.gov has much more information about COVID-19, flu, and RSV. Visit their website to learn more about risk factors, transmission, symptoms, treatment, and prevention steps for each virus.
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