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Flu, Pneumonia, and RSV in Kids: How to Tell the Difference

by | Jan 19, 2024

Flu, pneumonia, and RSV symptoms in kids are all similar, and it may be difficult for you to discern which one your child may be struggling with. KidsStreet Urgent Care is here to inform you on how to tell the difference between RSV, pneumonia, and flu symptoms in kids. 

The Difference In Flu, Pneumonia, and RSV

While each of these illnesses have common symptoms, they are not the same and should be treated differently. 

The flu and RSV are viruses that are extremely contagious and spread rapidly. Each of these viruses have overlapping symptoms and are treated similarly. While both illnesses can cause complications, they are not inherently dangerous if treated correctly and in a timely fashion. 

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs, specifically the air sacs. There are various types of pneumonia, which can be caused by germs, bacteria, or a complication of untreated viruses such as COVID-19, RSV, or the flu. Pneumonia is treatable, but poses more danger to kids and adults alike as it heavily affects the ability to breathe. 

Flu Symptoms and Testing Methods

Flu season runs from October to early March in most parts of the United States, and millions of people contract this virus each year. 

Flu Symptoms in Kids

Flu in kids is characterized by a set of telltale symptoms that come on extremely quickly. Common flu symptoms consist of: 

  • High fevers
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Chills 
  • Headache
  • Trouble breathing

If your child has any of the above symptoms, it’s time to get them tested!

Testing For The Flu 

Although symptoms of this virus are usually the same across the board, there are multiple flu viruses that can affect your children. Flu A and B are the most common, with Flu C being seen less. 

Additionally, there are several types of testing methods that are used to diagnose the flu. The rapid test is most common, and this testing process begins with a provider gently swabbing the inside of your child’s nostrils. It is then tested in-house with results arriving in 10-15 minutes. 

If rapid test results are inconclusive, their provider may order a send-off test which takes a few days for results to come back. 

Does your child need to be tested for the flu? KidsStreet offers rapid and send-off testing in our urgent care services for children

RSV Symptoms and Testing Methods

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is another common virus that affects thousands of children every year. Young children and babies are at an increased risk for developing complications from RSV, so you should take extra precaution to try and prevent RSV in these children. 

RSV Symptoms in Kids

Symptoms of RSV in kids are almost the exact same as the flu, with the distinguishable difference being that it does not usually come with a high fever and symptoms come on more gradually. Kids with RSV may experience: 

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat 

Testing For RSV 

Rapid RSV testing is most commonly used to diagnose the virus. KidsStreet also offers this in our urgent care services!

Pneumonia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Pneumonia can cause severe complications for your children. It is important to recognize and treat this illness before symptoms worsen. 

Symptoms of Pneumonia in Kids

Pneumonia may have similar symptoms to the flu and RSV, but the key difference is that it is an infection and mainly affects the lungs. Symptoms of pneumonia include: 

  • Frequent cough
  • Fever
  • Fast breathing
  • Difficulty and labored breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain or tightness in the chest
  • Vomiting 
  • Experiencing lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite 

Diagnosing Pneumonia

While there is no test to diagnose pneumonia, a provider can listen to your child’s breathing sounds and diagnose the illness fairly quickly. 

Treating Flu, RSV, and Pneumonia in Kids

Each of these illnesses are treated in similar ways. Best practices for treating Flu and RSV include: 

  • Over the counter cold medications 
  • Over the counter pain and fever medications
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Stay hydrated
  • Nasal spray and ear drops
  • Inhalers

Since Pneumonia is an infection, it can be treated with a combination of these treatment methods as well as: 

  • Antibiotics prescribed by a provider
  • Try a humidifier to assist with breathing
  • Breathing treatments

If your child has a compromised immune system, ensure that they get treatment sooner rather than later as complications of these illnesses can be dangerous. 

Turn To KidsStreet Urgent Care

If your child is down with a respiratory virus, KidsStreet can help!

To visit one of our kid-focused clinics, register online. You’ll be able to wait from home or in your vehicle until we are ready to see you. 

Forget to register before your visit? No worries. Walk-ins are always welcome at KidsStreet! Please be aware that walk-in patients may experience longer in-clinic wait times than those who register online. Patients are seen in the order that they register, and walk-ins are added to the same queue.

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