Respiratory infections like colds, flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus — known as RSV — are very common.
“Most of us are affected by this kind of illness at least once a year,” said Adam Brady, MD, of Samaritan Infectious Disease. “We miss school, work and events as we manage our symptoms. For some people there is a higher risk of severe disease — especially the very old, very young, the immunocompromised and people with certain underlying conditions like cancer or heart disease.”
Respiratory viruses tend to spread more in the fall and winter due to more groups gathering indoors, holiday travel to or from areas of high community spread and some viruses survive better in cooler, less humid environments.
“Sometimes we are most contagious before we even know we are sick or when symptoms first start,” said Dr. Brady. “So, the following general precautions are always helpful, and especially during cold and flu season.”
Take care: Focus on your health with good nutrition, hydration, exercise and sleep. The healthier you are, the better your chances of fighting off illness or keeping symptoms manageable.
Wash up: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is a good alternative if soap and water are not available.
Cover up: Cover your coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve. Consider wearing a face mask in crowded public places to protect others if you think you might be getting sick or you cannot stay home.
Clean up: Disinfect high‑touch surfaces frequently in your home or office.
Don’t touch: Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Don’t share: Keep your drinks and personal items like toothbrushes to yourself.
Stay home: Stay home and avoid others if you are sick. In addition to protecting others from your illness, resting at home gives you the best chance for a quick recovery.
Open windows: If possible, open windows in places where people gather. Good ventilation helps prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses.
Get vaccinated: Vaccination is a powerful way to avoid or reduce the severity of the flu or COVID‑19. Stay up to date with these vaccines.
“If you do catch a respiratory illness your symptoms will likely make you uncomfortable for at least a few days but unless you are at high risk of severe disease, you can usually care for yourself at home,” Dr. Brady said.