Is It the Flu or RSV? Help Your Patients Understand the Difference

With flu season now upon us, it falls to primary care providers to educate patients on the importance of vaccination. This is especially vital, as fewer than half of all adults and children get the flu vaccine each year.1

In addition to influenza, the fall and winter months also see a peak in the number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Each year in the U.S., more than 57,000 children are hospitalized due to RSV infection, and about 14,000 adults over 65 die from it.2

RSV can have similar symptoms as the flu, which can be confusing—and potentially harmful—to patients. Understanding the difference between the two illnesses can help your patients protect themselves—and get proper treatment from you if and when necessary.

The information and checklist below can be used as a resource for patient education. Simply copy and paste it into a message for your patient portal.

For patients: the flu vs. RSV

If you have young kids or a weakened immune system, chances are you’ve heard of something called RSV. But what is it exactly? How is it different from the flu? And what can you do to protect yourself from it?

  • Flu (influenza) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications.
  • RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

 Symptom checklist: is it the flu or RSV?2,3

While you can protect yourself from the flu by getting vaccinated (see our patient handout debunking common myths about the flu), you can help prevent RSV by taking certain precautions, including:

  • Avoiding close contact with those who are sick
  • Washing your hands often
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • Staying home when you’re sick

For you: molecular testing can help you diagnose a virus or bacterium

Molecular infectious disease testing can help you determine the cause of flu-like symptoms in your patients, which is especially important among those who are most at risk—the very young or very old.

With Flu A/B + RSV testing from Quest Diagnostics you can:

  • Confirm whether the patient has one of these viral infections, enabling the right treatment sooner
  • Get highly accurate results compared to older methods (e.g., rapid antigen testing)
  • Differentiate influenza A and B from RSV
  • Prevent inappropriate antibiotic use
  • Get results within 24 hours

Help your patients protect themselves from common winter illnesses—and rely on molecular testing for accurate diagnoses—to make flu season a little less flu-filled.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National early-season flu vaccination coverage, United States, November 2016. Available at www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/nifs-estimates-nov2016.htm. Accessed September 25, 2017.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Protect against respiratory syncytial virus. Available at www.cdc.gov/features/rsv/index.html. Accessed September 25, 2017.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu symptoms & complications. Available at www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/complications.htm. Accessed September 25, 2017.