Infectious Lung Diseases

Learn about respiratory viruses, how they spread, treatment and prevention.

Most infectious respiratory diseases are spread from person to person, which means that if one person in a school, workplace, home or community gets an infectious disease, they can spread it to others. The spread may occur through the air or from direct or indirect contact with an infected individual.

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Infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza, COVID-19, and pertussis spread from person to person. Learn how your body fights back against these pathogens and some of the common side effects that you may experience as your immune system attacks.

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Preventing Infectious Respiratory Diseases

  • Get Vaccinated. Talk to your doctor to see if you are up to date on your vaccinations.  It’s always better to prevent a disease rather than treat it after it occurs.
  • Wash Your Hands. Hand-washing with soap is always preferred, but hand sanitizer works in a pinch. Cover those coughs and sneezes to prevent spreading disease.
  • Cover Coughs and Sneezes. When you cover your cough or sneeze cover your mouth with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the garbage. If you don’t have tissue, sneeze or cough into your upper sleeve or elbow – but not your hands. Afterward, washing your hands.
  • Stay Home While Sick. Staying home, and away from other members of the household as much as possible, will help stop the infection from spreading to others.
  • Keep Your Home Clean. Prioritize cleaning for health, not appearance. Disinfecting doorknobs and other high touch surfaces, replacing used hand towels and keeping physical distance from sick individuals will help stop the spread of disease.
  • Additional Protective Measures. In some instances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, additional preventive measures, such as wearing face masks and social distancing outside the home are required to help stop widespread community transmission of disease.

Treating Infectious Respiratory Diseases

While each disease has slightly different symptoms, diagnostic tests, and treatment options, these overarching concepts provide a broad overlay for treatment.

  • Contact Your Healthcare Provider. If the infected individual is young, old or lives with a chronic disease, your primary health care provider will want to know if you are sick so they can monitor your recovery. You should also call whenever there is a new or persisting symptom that worries you. You can determine with your health care provider when they would like to be alerted to illness and which symptoms require prompt notification.

Am I at High-Risk?

Depending on the disease, you may be at greater risk for complications if you are an infant, child, adult 50 years of age or older, or have a chronic medical condition.
  • Treatment Options:
    • Supportive Care. This means treating the symptoms while the disease runs its course. An example is to recommend bed rest when feeling tired. Other suggestions include staying hydrated, monitoring symptom and temperature changes, taking recommended over-the-counter medications and reporting new or lingering symptoms to your healthcare provider.
    • Antiviral Medications. For diseases such as influenza and COVID-19, antiviral medication may be recommended by your healthcare provider. Antivirals have been shown to reduce symptoms if started within a day or two of getting sick so it is important to speak to your healthcare provider right away if you are at high-risk for more severe illness, especially those who might require hospitalization.
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Antiviral treatment can boost your immune system if taken promptly at the onset of symptoms of some infectious respiratory diseases. Learn more about when to contact your healthcare provider how this treatment can help you feel better faster.

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More Infectious Respiratory Disease Resources

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COPD Educator Course
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