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There are many different types of viruses that can affect the breathing passages and cause respiratory illnesses such as a cold or flu-like illness fact sheet.
There are many different types of viruses that can affect the breathing passages and cause respiratory illnesses such as a cold or flu-like illness.
Some of the common respiratory viruses include:
Viral respiratory infections are spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes small droplets containing infectious agents into the air. The droplets in the air may be breathed in by those nearby. The viruses are also spread by direct contact with a sick person or indirect contact with hands, tissues or other articles soiled by nose and throat discharges.
Enterovirus and adenovirus infections are also spread through contamination of hands or objects with infected faeces.
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the particular virus causing the illness. Most respiratory viruses cause cold-like symptoms or flu-like illnesses.
Common signs and symptoms include:
Most people improve within a few days.
Sometimes illness can result in complications. Types of complications depend on the particular virus but may include:
Laboratory tests are not always necessary; however, the infection can be confirmed by laboratory testing of mucus from the back of the nose or throat.
(time between becoming infected and developing symptoms)
Usually 1 to 10 days, varies with the specific virus
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
The infectious period varies widely and depends on the specific virus. However, usually viral respiratory infections are usually most contagious during the first few days of symptoms. In some cases, people with an infection can shed (or release) the virus (and so remain infectious) for some time after they have recovered from the infection.
No specific treatment is required for mild viral respiratory infections. Most people recover with rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Paracetamol may be used for relief of symptoms but must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 years of age unless specifically recommended by a doctor.
Antiviral medication may be used for severe or prolonged viral respiratory infections such as influenza virus infection. Antibiotics do not help even though they are often prescribed.
When to seek medical advice
Seek medical advice if you are concerned about your symptoms or have any of the following:
Viral respiratory infections can be prevented by the following measures: