Many respiratory viruses circulate in the fall and winter seasons causing illness of varying severity across the United States. Three common viruses include flu, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and COVID-19. There are factors, such as having a chronic lung disease that increase your risk for severe illness from respiratory viruses. Learn more about these risk factors, how to prevent infectious respiratory illnesses and where to get more information.

Who Is at Higher Risk?

Anyone can get sick from an infectious respiratory illness; however, some people are at increased risk of getting severe illnesses. Some risk factors include:

  • Age
    • Children under 5 have developing immune systems and smaller lungs and airways.
    • Older adults experience natural weakening of the immune system, making it more difficult to defend against infectious respiratory diseases. The risk of getting severe illness increases with age.
  • Underlying Medical Conditions
    • People with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from infectious respiratory diseases. An individual with asthma, for example, may already have increased swelling and mucus production in their airways. The addition of a respiratory virus such as flu can further increase swelling and mucus production making it harder for the body to deal with the stress from the flu infection. A few examples of underlying medical conditions include:
      • Chronic lung diseases
      • Heart disease
      • Diabetes
      • Weakened immune system

Tools Available to Help Prevent Severe Illness from flu, RSV and COVID-19


Talk to your doctor to see if you are up to date on your vaccinations. 

  • Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.
  • RSV vaccination is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older after having a discussion with your healthcare provider.
  • COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.
  • Maternal RSV vaccination is recommended as an option to help prevent babies from severe RSV illness and is given during weeks 32-36 of pregnancy during September through January.
Learn more about COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines

Monoclonal antibodies

If you have an infant or are an expectant parent, talk to your healthcare provider about a new monoclonal antibody injection to help provide protection against severe RSV illness.

This preventative antibody is recommended for all infants under 8 months of age and babies between 8-19 months who are at increased risk of severe RSV.


There are tests available to help tell your healthcare provider which virus you have. Testing can help inform next steps such as treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about testing right away if you get sick, especially if you are at increased risk for severe illness.


There are antiviral medications available for flu and COVID-19. Antivirals may lower your risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death if started early and within the recommended window for the treatment.

Everyday Habits to Help Protect Against Illness

Handwashing. Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water isn’t available.

Cover your cough and sneeze. Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze. You can use your elbow if a tissue is not available.

Keep your distance from people that are sick. While this is not always possible, the closer you are to an individual that is sick, the more likely you are to be exposed to respiratory droplets containing a virus.

Stay home when you are sick. In addition to staying home when you are sick, try your best to keep your distance from others in your home to help prevent them from getting sick.

Clean and disinfect. When someone is sick in the home, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces is especially important to help prevent spreading illness to other members of the home.

Mask wearing. You may choose to wear a mask to help provide protection against circulating viruses. Masks can help protect people at higher risk of serious illness. Their effectiveness does vary depending on the virus and mask quality.

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