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Respiratory viral infections: Influenza, COVID, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

What is a respiratory viral infection?

Respiratory viral infections occur every year, usually in the winter.  They are highly infectious respiratory diseases caused by a number of coronavirus, flu or respiratory viruses. The most likely viruses that will cause flu and COVID each year are identified in advance and vaccines are then produced to closely match them.  for example, this year’s vaccine will protect against three types of flu virus.

Isn’t flu, COVID and RSV just a heavy cold?

No. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat.

How do I know when I’ve got a respiratory viral infection?

Flu symptoms hit you suddenly and sometimes severely. They usually include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, and you can often get a cough and sore throat at the same time.  COVID and RSV symptoms range and can be mild like a cold but can also be more severe and include fever.  These infections are caused by viruses and not bacteria, so antibiotics won’t treat it.

What harm can respiratory viral infections do?

People sometimes think a bad cold is flu or COVID, but having flu or COVID can be much worse than a cold and you may need to stay in bed for a few days, especially if you have flu. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of respiratory viruses. For them it can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse.

How are respiratory viruses spread?

Respiratory viruses are spread easily from person to person via the respiratory secretions produced when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes.  They can also be spread through hand-to-face contact after touching a person or surface contaminated with the virus.

How to prevent spread?

In hospital: affected patients will be isolated or may sometimes cohorted with other patients with the same respiratory viral infection. Good handwashing and use of personal protective equipment (gloves, aprons, masks and eye protection) is used to protect staff.

At home: Catch it, bin it, kill it – sneeze into tissues, put the tissue in a bin and then wash you hands. Try and stay away from public events and gatherings while you are symptomatic. Also if you are eligible, make sure you have your flu and COVID vaccination…

It is recommended that the following groups have the seasonal flu vaccine:

  • everyone aged 65 or over
  • all pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy
  • everyone living in a residential or nursing home
  • everyone who cares for an older or disabled person
  • all frontline health and social care workers.
  • everyone under 65 years of age with one of the following conditions (including children, and babies of six months and older):
    • diabetes
    • a heart problem
    • a chest complaint such as bronchitis or emphysema
    • a kidney disease
    • a liver disease
    • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment
    • a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
    • a neurological condition, for example multiple sclerosis (MS)
    • a problem with your spleen, for example sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed.

I had the seasonal flu / COVID vaccinations last year; do I need more vaccinations this year?

We do not know how long last year’s vaccination will last and for this reason we strongly recommend that even if you were vaccinated last year, you should be vaccinated again this year.

Will I get any side effects?

There are some fairly common but mild side effects. Some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, and your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected. Any other reactions are very rare.

Will it protect me completely?

Most people will be protected against flu and COVID by having the vaccination. And while the vaccines do not give 100 per cent protection, if you have the vaccination and still go on to get a flu or COVID you are much less likely to have serious complications.

How long will I be protected for?

The vaccine should provide protection throughout the forthcoming winter season. 

For further information please contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service at the hospital.

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