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Symptoms of flu, COVID-19 and RSV create difficulty diagnosing respiratory illnesses

Influenza, COVID-19 and RSV cases are ramping up in Arizona, and all present with similar symptoms: coughing, fever, congestion.

But the way to treat each illness is different. 

Dr. Nick Staab is a medical epidemiologist with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

He says doctors have a hard time diagnosing patients by symptoms alone.  

“It is very difficult to distinguish COVID, Influenza and RSV from one another, almost completely unable to distinguish them clinically, so it’s really important that you be tested.”

The Arizona Department of Public Health says a greater number of influenza cases were reported in November than what is typically seen at peak flu season in January.

Getting tested is key, because treatment plans can differ depending on the bug and age. 

Staab says older people are especially at risk of having severe flu symptoms. 

“Because those groups have not had exposure in the last couple seasons as much as usual, they’re just at higher risk for getting flu and getting those severe cases," he said. 

Staab added that getting vaccinated can protect against cases, and reduce the severity of symptoms.

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.