'Tis the season for respiratory illness

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'Tis the season for respiratory illness

‘Tis the season. Not for the holidays, but for the flu, RSV, and COVID-19.

These viruses are the main cause of respiratory illnesses during “respiratory disease season,” which typically starts each fall and peaks during the winter months. For many people, the viruses only cause mild sickness. However, for others, they could lead to serious illness or even death.

Many health experts claim respiratory illness is more common during the colder months because people are indoors more often, where it is easier for viruses to spread through inhalation or direct touch. However, new research concludes that cold temperatures lower immunity in the nose, making people more susceptible to viruses.

According to a 2022 study in the Journal of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a drop in nasal tissue temperature of just nine-degrees Fahrenheit reduced immune response by almost half. This finding helps explain why people are more prone to catching colds and flu during winter, the research states.

Respiratory illness continues to increase across most areas of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, reported activity of those seeking medical care for respiratory illness remained “low” in Illinois and Indiana through much of 2023.

This season the CDC projects COVID-19 is unlikely to cause large volumes of severe disease or hospitalization due to vaccinations and protective immunity from prior infections. The severity of the flu will remain typical. RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is likely to return to normal season patterns following a severe season last year.

For people who are not at high risk for severe illness, respiratory symptoms can be treated at home, according to the Mayor Clinic. Getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids, and using over-the-counter medications can help you feel better and aid recovery.

To stay healthy, experts recommend getting vaccinated, ensure proper indoor ventilation, practicing good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, isolating, and masking when appropriate.

Common Respiratory Illnesses

Source: John Hopkins Medicine

Common Cold

Vaccine: No

Can be caused by more than 200 viruses. Spread through coughing, sneezing, contaminated surfaces.

Symptoms: Runny nose, scratchy throat, low-grade fever, aches, fatigue, chills.


Vaccine: Yes

Spread through airborne droplets (sneezes or coughs), contaminated surfaces. Flu viruses constantly evolve, which is why flu shots are updated every year.

Symptoms: Exhaustion, fever, body aches, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, headache, vomiting, diarrhea.


Vaccine: Yes

Close person-to-person contact, respiratory droplets from an infected person.

Symptoms: Sore throat, congestion, runny nose, fever, chills. Lost sense of smell/taste, shortness of breath, body aches.

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

Vaccine: Yes

Highly contagious respiratory virus affecting adults and children (especially infants). Spread through coughing, sneezing, contaminated surfaces.

Symptoms: Runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, decreased appetite, low fever.


Vaccine: No

Inflammation of the breathing tubes, increased mucus (also called a chest cold). Commonly triggered by flu, common cold, smoking, air pollution.

Symptoms: Coughing up mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, sore throat, watery eyes.


Vaccine: Yes

Serious lung infection (air sacs fill with pus & other liquid). Caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi.

Symptoms: Confusion, fever, cough that produces mucus, heavy sweating, chills, decreased appetite, rapid breathing & pulse, shortness of breath.

Whooping Cough (pertussis)

Vaccine: Yes

Highly contagious bacterial infection, affecting mostly infants & young children.

Symptoms: Violent coughing, fever, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes.