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Fevers, sniffles and coughs – oh my! Viruses like COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are more common during the winter months. These viruses can cause serious illness in some people, so it’s important to know what to do if you feel unwell.

“If you feel sick, contact your health care provider as soon as possible,” said Col. John Verghese, Chief, Clinical Monitoring 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 prevent the spread of illness to others.

There is a lot to know about COVID-19, influenza 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, influenza and RSV. These viruses all have similar symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you cannot tell the difference between COVID-19 and the 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/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Tired (tired)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more common in children with influenza, but can occur at any age with COVID-19)
  • Change or loss of taste or smell (more common with COVID-19)

Compared to people with the flu, people with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods of time, according to the CDC. Additionally, symptoms of COVID-19 can change as new variants emerge. It is also possible for people who have already been infected with COVID-19 to become reinfected and become seriously ill.

RSV symptoms usually begin within four to six days of infection. Symptoms usually appear in stages, not all at once. People infected with RSV usually have these symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • To cough
  • To sneeze
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

RSV can cause a different set of symptoms in infants younger than six months. If you have a young child, watch for irritability, decreased activity and appetite, and difficulty breathing.

What should I do if I get sick?

If you or a family member begin to feel ill, contact your primary care provider or the Military Health System Nurses Hotline for advice on testing and treatment.

Your provider will decide if you need to be tested for COVID-19, influenza or RSV. TRICARE covers medically necessary laboratory tests, including COVID-19, influenza and RSV tests, free of charge when ordered by a TRICARE-approved provider or a provider at a military hospital or clinic. TRICARE also covers medically necessary at-home COVID-19 testing if approved by the FDA and ordered by a TRICARE-approved vendor. You may also be eligible to order a free home COVID-19 test set from the US Postal Service. If your household received test kits under this program before December 2022, you can participate again.

Depending on your diagnosis, your provider may also prescribe prescription medications or recommend over-the-counter medications to help manage your symptoms.

In addition to following your provider’s recommendations, follow the tips below to avoid spreading disease.

How can I prevent the spread of viruses?

There are many ways to help prevent the capture and spread of viruses. You can take these steps when you feel well or sick:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except when you are receiving medical attention.
  • 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 test positive, follow the CDC’s recommendations for isolation and precautions. Remember that if you test positive for COVID-19 but you have no symptoms, it is still possible to spread the virus.

Vaccination remains a key tool to prevent and reduce the severity of COVID-19 and influenza. Learn more about TRICARE coverage for COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, and flu shots. There is no vaccine against RSV.

Learn more

CDC.gov has much more information about COVID-19, influenza, and RSV. Visit their website to learn more about the risk factors, transmission, symptoms, treatment, and prevention steps for each virus.

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