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Respiratory infections such as colds
and the flu (influenza) are common in winter. These infections are often caused by
They may share some symptoms. But not all respiratory infections are the same. Some
you more sick than others. You can take steps to prevent common respiratory infections.
if you get sick, you can take care of yourself to keep the infection from getting
Symptoms include runny nose,
coughing and sneezing, and sore throat. Cold symptoms tend to be milder than flu
Symptoms tend to come on
slowly. They last for a few days to about a week.
With a cold, you can still do
most of the things you normally do.
Symptoms include fever,
headache, extreme tiredness (fatigue), cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle
aches. Children may have upset stomach and vomiting, but adults often don’t.
Symptoms tend to come on quickly. Some, such as fatigue and cough, can last a few
With the flu, you may feel worn out and not able to do normal activities.
It’s most likely not the flu
if an adult has vomiting or diarrhea for a day or two. This so-called “stomach
flu” is probably a GI (gastrointestinal) infection.
Without proper care, a respiratory infection can get worse. It can lead to serious
complications and death. If you aren’t getting better, call your healthcare provider.
Complications can include:
Bronchitis (infection of the airways that leads to shortness of breath and coughing
up thick yellow or green mucus)
Pneumonia (infection of the lungs in which fluid and mucus settle in the lungs, making
Worsening of chronic conditions such as heart failure, chronic lung disease, asthma,
Severe dehydration (loss of fluids)
A flu vaccine protects you from
influenza (but not other colds or infections). Get a vaccine each fall, before flu
season starts. This can be done at a clinic, healthcare provider’s office, pharmacy,
senior center, or through your workplace.
Pneumonia can be a complication of influenza. There are 2 pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines
that protect against many types of pneumonia. Talk with your healthcare provider about
these important vaccines.
No one likes getting sick. To protect yourself and others from cold and flu germs:
Wash your hands often with
warm water and soap. Scrub them for 15 to 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand
sanitizer when you don’t have access to soap and water.
Don’t touch your eyes, nose,
and mouth. This may help you keep germs out of your body.
Try to stay away from people
with respiratory infections. You may want to stay out of crowds during flu season
Ask your healthcare provider
if you should get a pneumonia vaccination.
Use warm water and plenty of soap. Work up a good lather.
Clean your whole hand, under
your nails, between your fingers, and up your wrists. Wash for at least
15 to 20
seconds. Don’t just wipe—rub well.
Rinse. Let the water run down your fingertips, not up your wrists.
In a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.
Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Date Last Reviewed:
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