Respiratory Illnesses-Cold, Flu, RSV, and COVID

Respiratory Illnesses-Cold, Flu, RSV, and COVID

Every fall and winter see a rise in respiratory and contagious illnesses with the peak usually occurring in February.  An early season might show a peak in December.  As the temperatures decrease, people are indoors together, travel, and the air is drier, the viruses are more easily spread. 

2022 may see an early peak but the peak could last all season as most people have been very cautious with COVID precautions and are now more comfortable with the illness.  Since people were skipping events, wearing masks, distancing and doing all of the right “things” to prevent contagious diseases, those common flus and colds have decreased.  Which means more people will have less immunity and a bigger chance of getting sick more often.  It could be a busy sick season!

In general, those with weakened immune systems and those with age extremes—the very young or older—will have a greater chance of having a more serious case which can lead to hospitalization and very serious symptoms. 

Here are the common virus illnesses

Cold (Adenovirus, Coronavirus, Rhinovirus, Parainfluenza).  Spread by droplets from coughing and sneezing which can last on surfaces for hours.  Treatment is to manage symptoms.  No vaccinations.  Can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis and in some cases croup.

Flu (Influenza). Spread by droplets from coughing and sneezing which can linger on surfaces.  Treatment includes managing symptoms, but antivirals may shorten illness length by 1-2 days or prevent more serious illness in those who are compromised.  Vaccination available to reduce seriousness of illness or prevent.  Can lead to serious illness and pneumonia.

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). Spread by close contact, droplets from sneezing and coughing and surface spread.  Treatments includes managing symptoms.  No vaccination available.  Since it affects the bronchioles and lungs, those with small airways or existing airway issues often develop bronchiolitis or pneumonia and serious breathing issues. 

COVID (COVID-19, SARS CoV-2, coronavirus disease 19). Spread by droplets from sneezing and coughing including tiny airborne particles and some surface spread. Treatments include managing symptoms.  Vaccines and boosters are readily available.  New variants can cause reinfection within 90 days and all variants can develop into pneumonia, long COVID and a host of unknown effects yet to be determined.

All of these illnesses have similar presentations in the average healthy adult—runny nose, cough, headache, etc.  Some may include fever.  Typically, the incubation period (exposure to symptoms) is 1-4 days for the various illnesses and they last about 7-10 days.  But the most contagious period is BEFORE symptoms start and the first few days of illness. 

In the very young, immunocompromised, older, or patients with existing health conditions that can become exacerbated, these “simple” illnesses can cause very serious illness, hospitalization and even death.  They are not to be taken lightly. 

Prevention:  The biggest method of prevention is for everyone to obtain a vaccination for those illnesses where available and STAY AT HOME IF YOU ARE SICK!  Your simple illness can be very serious to someone else.  Wash your hands frequently, wear a mask if you fall into a high risk category (between calls and everyday life), clean common touch surfaces such as door knobs, sinks, etc. and distance when you can. 

Treatment:  Test for COVID since those are available and unless you are prone to or develop serious illness, viruses can be treated at home with over-the-counter meds and supportive care to treat fever and symptoms.  Always keep hydrated!  Please avoid hospital visits as they are often overrun with sick patients during the surges.  Consider contacting you physician via message or phone for advice or using a telehealth visit.  If those aren’t available, then consider your physician office or urgent care.  If you have serious symptoms such as breathing difficulty, fainting, etc. you should consider an emergency room visit.

Healthcare providers should monitor local illness trends and cases to be aware.