Bare trees. Cooler temperatures. Cozy nights inside by the fire. Colder weather is here—and so is a higher risk of coming down with a respiratory infection. If you find yourself feeling under the weather, it’s important to know the difference between respiratory diseases so that you can get back to healthy. Here are things you should know about some common respiratory diseases:
The Common Cold is a virus that is spread through the air by sneezing, coughing, and speaking and by direct contact with contaminated surfaces like hands, door knobs, and light switches. Symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, slight fatigue, minor aches and pains, and a hacking, productive cough. Typically there is no fever or headache. A vaccine is not available and antibiotics will not treat the common cold – instead get plenty of rest, fluids, and use over-the-counter medications for symptom relief. Expect your cold to last for 3-7 days and know that you are infectious for up to 7 days after symptoms disappear, so make sure you are taking precautions to prevent spreading your cold.
Influenza (Flu) is a virus that is spread through the air by sneezing, coughing, and speaking and by direct contact with contaminated surfaces like hands, door knobs, and light switches. The flu is a seasonal illness that circulates throughout Wisconsin and the United States each fall and winter. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aching, and a dry, non-productive cough. Influenza antivirals may be available to help treat the flu if started within 2 days of getting sick. Other treatment options include rest, fluids, and pain/fever reducing medications. Flu symptoms typically appear 1-3 days after exposure and may continue for a week or longer. The infectious period starts 1-2 days before symptoms appear and lasts for 5-10 days after. To help prevent the spread of influenza, it is recommended that if infected you stay home until you have been fever free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medications. An annual vaccine is available and should be administered each October for optimal protection. Vaccination is recommended for all persons 6 months of age and older. It takes 2 weeks for your body to build up protection against the flu once vaccinated.
Pneumonia is an infection—bacterial, fungal, or viral—that inflames the air sacks in the lung(s). Bacterial pneumonia is the most common type, with symptoms such as high fever, profuse sweating, bluish lips and nails, and confusion. Viral pneumonia typically starts with flu-like symptoms and a high fever within 12-36 hours of infection. Additional symptoms of pneumonia may include fever, chills, sweats, chest pain, productive cough, and difficulty breathing. Both bacterial and viral types of pneumonia are contagious and spread through the air by sneezing, coughing, and speaking and by direct contact with contaminated surfaces like hands, door knobs, and light switches. Fungal pneumonia is environmental and is not spread from person to person, making it uncommon in most people. Antibiotic and antiviral medications are used in treatment, as well as over-the-counter medications to reduce fever/pain and suppress coughing, though coughing aids in removing fluid from the lungs. There are two vaccines against bacterial pneumonia. Talk with your health care provider to see if you are a candidate for one or both vaccines. It is also recommended that you receive the annual flu vaccine, as pneumonia can be a complication of the flu.
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is a bacteria that is spread through the air by sneezing, coughing, and speaking and by direct contact with contaminated surfaces like hands, door knobs, and light switches. Symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose and a frequent violent cough that usually increases at night and is seemingly unaffected by cough suppressants. Typically, there is no presence of fever, headache, body aches, or sore throat. Pertussis is generally a mild disease in adults, but can be severe in infants and young children. Treatment includes antibiotics, rest, and fluids. It usually last for 2-6 weeks and you are infectious for the first 21 days of coughing, or through the first 5 days of antibiotic use. A preventative vaccine is available.
RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is a virus that is spread through the air by sneezing, coughing, and speaking and by direct contact with contaminated surfaces like hands, door knobs, and light switches. RSV is the most common cause of bronchitis, croup, ear infections, and pneumonia. Symptoms usually include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. In infants, the only symptoms that appear may be irritability, decreased activity, breathing difficulties, and poor feeding. There is no specific treatment available for RSV, but it is important to get plenty of rest and fluids. Anti-viral medication may also be a treatment option. Symptoms typically appear 4-6 days after exposure and the infectious period last for the duration of the illness, usually 3-8 days.
How can you protect yourself and others from respiratory illnesses?
- Receive all recommended vaccinations.
- Practice proper, frequent handwashing.
- Cover you coughs and sneezes.
- Do not smoke – try to quit if you do.
- Stay home when you are ill.
- If prescribed medication, take all doses.
- Protect your immune system by getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.
Local resources include:
- Your health care provider
- Washburn County Health Department: BC+ and FoodShare application assistance and WIC (Women’s Infants and Children Program) enrollment – 715-635-4400.
- NorthLakes Health Center: medical services and BC+/Affordable Care Act application assistance. Hayward – 715-634-2541 or Minong – 715-466-2201.
- Rice Lake Area Free Clinic: Walk-in, Tuesdays from 5:00pm-9:00pm at Medical Arts Bldg. 1035 N. Main Street Rice Lake, WI (entrance is in the back off of Lakeshore Dr.).
- The 2017 Source: List of physical/community activities, Food Pantries, Farmers Markets, Senior Centers, and Community Suppers.
- For a complete list of Tobacco Cessation Resources, visit the Washburn County Health Department website: http://www.co.washburn.wi.us/departments/health-human-services/public-health
Resources used for this article include: