With colds, flu, Covid and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) floating around this winter, it can be hard to know which symptoms mean which illness.

“It [RSV] is a very common respiratory virus that affects upper and lower airways,” said Dr. Anila Chadha with Dignity Health Bakersfield. “Usually it gives common cold-like symptoms.”

Chadha said RSV symptoms usually overlap with those of the common cold, flu and Covid. The most common symptoms of RSV are coughing, sneezing, fevers, runny nose and wheezing that can last anywhere from two to eight days, Chadha said.

Chadha said the flu is unique with high fevers and body aches, and Covid symptoms often include headaches and abdominal complaints like diarrhea.

“RSV is unique in premature or young children that we see a lot of wheezing,” Chadha said. “If there is any shortness of breath or the child or baby is not eating as well, looks lethargic, not playful, your healthcare provider should be contacted for further recommendations.”

Chadha said most people are exposed to RSV by age 2, so healthy adults with strong immune systems should be safe. But there are some groups that are more vulnerable.

Chadha said RSV has the potential to cause severe illness in infants and children, especially babies born premature, with congenital heart or lung problems for those under any medical treatment that can weaken their immune systems.

Similarly, the elderly population of 65 years or older or those that have a weakened immune system from any heart disease, lung disease or diabetes are at a high risk for developing illness from RSV.

Chadha added that expectant mothers should treat any illness as a caution and contact their healthcare provider if they start showing symptoms since the immune system during pregnancy is slightly compromised.

But only about 1% of people are admitted due to bronchiolitis or pneumonia as a result of RSV, Chadha said.

While there is no vaccine for RSV, Chadha said ways to protect yourself or your children include getting the flu shot or updated Covid booster shot.

As holiday gatherings approach, Chadha also recommended to continue wearing a mask in crowded spaces and utilizing any public sanitation stations and washing your hands frequently.