As temperatures fluctuate between cold and warm this winter, the risk of respiratory viruses remains steady. From common colds and the latest COVID variant, JN.1, to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu, various bugs are circulating. While symptoms of these illnesses share similarities, there are key differences, and health experts emphasize the importance of taking precautions.
Contagious respiratory viruses, such as RSV and the common cold, often exhibit gradually appearing symptoms, whereas flu symptoms manifest abruptly. Common symptoms include fatigue, cough, stuffy nose, and a sore throat. The latest COVID variant presents symptoms similar to a cold but may also include headache and diarrhea.
Dr. Cristina Tamez, a pediatrician at Parkland Health, explains, "With both cold and flu symptoms, you're likely to feel fatigued, have a runny nose, and experience a cough. However, with the flu, those symptoms will appear rather quickly, and you'll likely have a fever, while a fever is much less common with a cold."
Individuals with chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease face an elevated risk of severe illness and complications, including pneumonia, respiratory failure, cardiac injury, and multiple organ failure, when infected with COVID or the flu. Additionally, infants, young children, and older adults are more prone to severe complications that may lead to hospitalization.
To minimize the risk of catching or spreading illness, health officials recommend following essential precautions. Dr. Joseph Chang, Chief Medical Officer at Parkland, emphasizes the ongoing importance of habits practiced since the early days of the pandemic, such as handwashing, avoiding large crowds, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated.
With flu season extending into spring, there is still time to receive vaccination, particularly as Texas typically sees the highest flu activity in February, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The flu vaccine is recommended annually for individuals aged 6 months and older, including pregnant women. Moreover, the CDC reports that the latest version of the COVID vaccine offers protection against severe complications from the JN.1 variant.
Patients of all ages can visit Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers (COPCs) for a flu shot at no cost to you, with no appointment necessary. To avoid a wait, Wednesdays are recommended. During Walk-In Wednesdays, a staff dedicated only to providing flu shots is available from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m.
For protection against severe RSV, vaccines are available to adults 60 and older, as well as pregnant women between 32-36 weeks gestation to protect their infant after birth.
“Getting vaccinated is an easy way to protect you and those you love,” Dr. Chang said. “This is one of the best tools we have to try to prevent infection."