WCH CONNECTOctober 15, 2019

Respiratory Virus Season: What you need to know

  • October 15, 2019
  • BY Dr. Michael Gardam, Medical Director Infection Prevention and Control

Now that it’s fall, our thoughts turn to all things pumpkin spice and the upcoming respiratory virus season.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

Why are we calling it ‘Respiratory Virus Season’? 

We refer to “respiratory virus season” rather than the “flu season” because while influenza dominates our thoughts, there are many other viruses out there that can cause essentially identical illness for which there is no vaccines.  If we only ever talk about influenza, we are missing the point that most people who get influenza-like illnesses can still make others sick with whatever virus they are infected with. By putting all of our eggs in the “influenza vaccine basket” and only talking about the vaccine as a control measure, many respiratory viruses are going to spread around unchecked.

How are respiratory viruses contracted?

Respiratory viruses, including influenza, are typically spread through close contact with someone who is actively ill.  It isn’t clear what proportion of these viruses are picked up through someone coughing/breathing/sneezing in your face, versus touching a contaminated surface and then your face, or by breathing in tiny droplets from the air. There are lots of studies that show these viruses can live on surfaces long enough to get picked up by someone else and can also float around on air currents.

A few years ago there was discussion about how respiratory viruses, especially influenza, can transmit from an infected person before these individuals show symptoms.  Some literature suggests that while this is theoretically possible, it is very unlikely to account for significant transmission.  You are far more likely to transmit your virus when you are actively ill. 

What can you do to lessen the spread of respiratory virus?

  • If you are actively ill, do not come to work.  This will help prevent transmission to others.
  • If you must be at work while ill, then please wear a surgical mask while around others. 
  • Please wash your hands often.  All respiratory viruses are easily killed by alcohol-based hand rub or removed by soap and water.


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