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Got the Sniffles? Upper Respiratory Tract Infections – Do I Have One?

We all have had known the dreaded feeling of coming down with an upper respiratory tract infection. The feeling of chills, sometimes a fever, cough, sneezing, body aches, and just an overall malaise. An upper respiratory tract infection can be an infection of the nasal passages, throat, and/or part of the lungs. For the most part, upper respiratory tract infections, also known as URIs, are common in the winter and can be caused by different agents such as viruses, bacteria, or even fungi. 

Contrary to popular belief, not all respiratory tract infections require antibiotics. Viral respiratory infections, such as the flu, only require supportive care.

Should I Be Worried About the Flu?

Influenza (a.k.a. Flu) infection is an acute respiratory infection caused by a negative-strand RNA virus. There are three types of influenza viruses that cause infection, influenza A, B, and C. Influenza A is the type that most commonly causes pandemics. The late fall and winter months are the time of year that patients are most susceptible to becoming infected with the flu. The elderly and people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure, or heart disease are more prone to infection. Obtaining a flu vaccine is recommended for prevention of the flu. It should be obtained in mid to late October to achieve optimal immunity. 

For individuals who do develop an upper respiratory infection, symptoms can last anywhere from seven to fourteen days. Symptoms may include headache, dry or wet cough, sneezing, sinus pressure, and in some cases, difficulty breathing. Supportive care and conservative management may be sufficient for most respiratory infections. It includes drinking lots of clear liquids to keep the body hydrated and over the counter antipyretics, such as acetaminophen for fever and antitussives for cough. Getting a lot of rest also aides in the recovery process. Most individuals will see the resolution of symptoms in one to two weeks.

What if I Have Bronchitis?

Bronchitis, which is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, can be treated with similar supportive care as described for a flu-like illness. However, if you do have a bacterial bronchitis or bacterial pneumonia, then antibiotics may be required. An upper respiratory tract infection that is prolonged past the seven to ten-day period and/or is worsening should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional to see what additional treatment is required. 

What About COVID-19?

This particular respiratory virus can infect both the upper and lower respiratory system. While this virus is still new and being highly researched, what we do know is that symptoms include cough, fever, difficulty breathing, and in some cases GI symptoms such as loose stool. While some may develop a serious illness, others may just be asymptomatic carriers. There is no known cure for this highly contagious virus, and a vaccine is still being researched. For now, the best tactics for controlling the spread of this virus include social distancing, wearing a mask, and good hand hygiene, such as frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer. Persons concerned about contracting or being exposed to the virus should contact their medical professional for more information.

Dr. Chantal Lewis,

Medical Director of VMT Home Health Agency

Dr Lewis - VMT Home Health Agency Medical Director

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