Respiratory illnesses, such as influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the common cold, and COVID-19 are more common during winter but can happen anytime. Respiratory infections mainly affect your nose, throat, and lungs. Some people can get seriously ill from these illnesses. Prevention, testing, and treatment can help everyone avoid more serious illness. 


Respiratory illnesses spread from person to person. When someone with a respiratory illness coughs, sneezes, or talks, germs get in the air near them, and if other people breathe it in, they can also get sick. With some respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19, people can also get sick from touching surfaces with germs. 


People with respiratory illnesses might feel some of these symptoms: 

  • Fever  
  • Cough  
  • Fatigue (tiredness)  
  • Sore throat  
  • Runny or stuffy nose  
  • Muscle or body aches  
  • Headaches  
  • Vomiting and diarrhea 


The symptoms of RSV, the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19 are very similar. The only way to know which illness you have is to get tested. You may be able to get a test at a doctor’s office, a community testing site, work, school, or a pharmacy. Testing for respiratory illnesses is usually accessible for people with health insurance, including Medicaid. Many pharmacies also sell at-home tests you can do yourself to test for COVID-19. These tests do not check for other respiratory illnesses. 


Vaccination is the best protection from respiratory illnesses for yourself, your family, and your community. There are vaccines for the flu, RSV, and COVID-19. Even if you get a respiratory illness after getting vaccinated, the vaccine helps prevent the illness from progressing into something serious. 


Vaccines are safe and effective for adults, children, and babies as young as six months old. You cannot get respiratory illnesses from the RSV, flu, or COVID-19 vaccines. Mild side effects are expected, and severe side effects are extremely rare. Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are safe for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Pregnant women need to get the vaccines because they not only protect women during their pregnancy but also protect infants in their first few weeks or months of life. 


It is safe to be vaccinated against the flu, COVID-19, and RSV at the same time. It takes about two weeks after your most recent RSV, flu, or COVID-19 vaccine for your body to learn how to protect you against the illnesses. 


The best time to get vaccines for respiratory illnesses is August, September, and October but you can get them anytime. Because the flu and COVID-19 are constantly changing, you need to get the flu vaccine every fall and may need boosters for COVID-19 regularly. Many doctors offices and clinics offer RSV, COVID-19, and flu vaccines. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you may be able to get your vaccines somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, or even in some schools and workplaces. 


Staying home from work, school, or social events anytime you feel sick is one of the most important things you can do to protect your family, friends, and community. If you are not feeling well but must leave home, wear a mask to cover your coughs and sneezes.  


Gathering indoors during times of high risk for respiratory illness can be unavoidable sometimes, but there are ways to reduce the risk of getting sick. if possible, open windows to reduce the spread of illnesses. Wash your hands and clean surfaces frequently to protect yourself and others from respiratory diseases and germs. Refrain from the traditional gestures like hugs, handshakes and kisses and use more casual verbal greetings when meeting family and friends.