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Fever and sniffling and coughing – oh dear! Viruses such as COVID-19, flu 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’re feeling down.

“If you feel sick, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible,” says Colonel John Verghese, Chief of 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 prevent spreading disease to others.”

There is 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 get COVID-19, the flu, and RSV. These viruses all have similar symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms alone cannot tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu. This is because some of their symptoms are the same. Common symptoms shared by these viruses include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (fatigue)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • vomit
  • Diarrhea (more common in children with flu, but can occur at any age with COVID-19)
  • Change in 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, the CDC says. In addition, COVID-19 symptoms may change as new variants emerge. It is also possible for people with previous COVID-19 infections to become re-infected and become seriously ill.

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

  • Running nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cough
  • to sneeze
  • A fever
  • Wheezing

RSV can cause a different set of symptoms in babies under six months old. If you have a young baby, watch for irritability, decreased activity and appetite, and difficulty breathing.

What should I do if I get sick?

If you or a family member begins to feel ill, contact your primary care provider or the Military Health System’s Nursing Advice Line for advice on testing and treatment.

Your provider will decide if you should be tested for COVID-19, the flu, or RSV. TRICARE covers medically necessary laboratory tests, including COVID-19, flu and RSV tests, free of charge when ordered from a TRICARE authorized supplier or a supplier at a military hospital or clinic. TRICARE also covers medically necessary COVID-19 home tests if they are FDA cleared and ordered from a TRICARE authorized provider. You may also be eligible to order a set of COVID-19 home tests for free from the US Postal Service. If your household received test kits through this program before December 2022, you can rejoin.

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

In addition to your supplier’s recommendations, follow the tips below to prevent the spread of disease.

How can I prevent the spread of viruses?

There are many ways you can help prevent contracting and spreading viruses. You can take these steps if you feel well or sick:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are sick, unless you are receiving medical care.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

If you think you have COVID-19 or if you test positive for it, follow CDC recommendations for isolation and precautions. Remember, if you test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms, it is still possible to spread the virus.

Vaccination remains an important tool to prevent and reduce 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.

Learn more has a lot more information on 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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