Posted by Dialogue on January 22, 2024


Many of us may feel apprehensive about the winter influx of COVID-19, RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), and flu, and the health risk it brings. The resulting increase in wait times at hospitals and clinics may add to these concerns, and cause unwanted frustration when you’re already not feeling your best.

To help, we’ve created the following article, which provides recommendations on how to cope with these illnesses effectively. It also includes advice on how to care for yourself and others at home, and guidance on when to seek medical assistance.


Why am I more at risk in winter?

You can catch the flu, RSV or COVID any time of the year, but winter generally sees an uptick in cases for several reasons. One is that the colder temperatures and the dry air can weaken your nasal immunity. That’s because the microscopic structures that kill bacteria and respiratory viruses in the upper nasal passage become significantly less effective in these conditions, meaning you’re less able to fight off bugs before they take hold[1]. Since people spend more time indoors because of the cold, it’s also easier to transmit/catch any virus lurking around. And let’s not forget about the many holiday celebrations at this time of year — they all contribute to the spread of illnesses, making it crucial to adopt preventive measures.


Do I have COVID-19, RSV, or the flu?

COVID-19, RSV, and the flu are respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. By understanding their signs and symptoms, you will be better able to distinguish them and take the appropriate steps to treat them.

  • COVID-19 symptoms may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Flu symptoms may be similar to COVID-19, although diarrhea is more common in children than adults with the flu, and a loss of taste or smell is much less likely with flu overall[2].

  • RSV primarily affects children and infants, and causes moderate cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, cough, and fever[3].

It is important to note that COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu. People infected may also take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious for longer periods of time[4]. Since the symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu are similar (and sometimes exactly the same), you cannot determine which virus you might have (should you be exhibiting symptoms) unless you undergo specific testing. At-home tests for Covid-19 are available in pharmacies or from online retailers, so it might help to order a supply ahead of time, so you’re prepared should symptoms occur. 


Preventing respiratory viruses

There are several steps you can take to help avoid catching one of the respiratory viruses currently circulating[5].

  • Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Use hand sanitizers containing at least 70% alcohol when soap and water are unavailable.

  • Avoid touching your face, especially the eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Maintain physical distance from individuals outside your household, especially in crowded spaces.

  • Wear a mask in public settings, especially when maintaining distance is not possible.

  • Avoid close contact with others if you are feeling unwell, and stay away from people who appear sick.

  • Ensure adequate ventilation in indoor spaces by opening windows or using air purifiers.


Treating symptoms at home

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, there are some easy but effective steps you can take to help aid your recovery.

  • Take it easy: Get plenty of rest to support your body's recovery process.

  • Focus on hydration: Drink plenty of water or herbal teas to avoid dehydration.

  • Help alleviate your symptoms: Use over-the-counter medications if you have fever, pain, or nasal congestion.

  • Soothe your sore throat/Ease coughing: Gargle with warm salt water or consider other natural remedies like honey, lemon and ginger in hot water, and herbal teas.

  • Relieve congestion and ease breathing: Using a humidifier or inhaling steam can go a long way in helping you clear your airways and breathe better.

  • Maintain a well-balanced diet: Focusing on a balanced eating style can be the least of your concerns when you’re not feeling well, but making sure you are eating varied and balanced meals can help with your recovery.

  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects: Doing so removes and kills infectious particles and reduces the risk of spreading the illness to other people in your household[6,7]


When to seek medical attention?

If you are at a higher risk of complications (the elderly, people with underlying health conditions, people who are pregnant, young children), you should contact your healthcare provider if you experience any COVID-19, RSV, or flu-like symptoms. You should also watch out for extreme symptoms such as severe difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, confusion, and bluish lips/face - these should be treated immediately.

As we face the seasonal influx of COVID-19, RSV, and flu, taking proactive measures is essential to safeguard your wellbeing. By adhering to preventive measures, understanding the differences between these illnesses, and seeking appropriate care at the right time, you can help minimize the impact of respiratory viruses this winter.


1. New study links nose temperature and immune response UCLA Health. February 17, 2023.

2. Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 28, 2022.

3. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 6, 2023.

4. Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 28, 2022.

5. Respiratory infectious diseases: How to reduce the spread with personal protective measures Government of Canada. Last modified December 12, 2023.

6. Respiratory infectious diseases: How to reduce the spread with personal protective measures Government of Canada. Last modified December 12, 2023.

7. The flu: Caring for someone sick at home Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 2010.


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Topics: Health and Wellness