Respiratory Illness Season is Here Again: How to Protect Yourself



A message from Dr. Celeste Loewe, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer

Every fall and winter, as the weather gets colder, more of us return to in-person indoor activities and gatherings, allowing respiratory illnesses to spread more easily.

Seasonal respiratory illnesses include the common cold, influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and now, of course, COVID-19 is also circulating in our environment. Common symptoms can include fatigue, coughing, nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat, and headaches.

This year, Canada is in the midst of a nation-wide Influenza A epidemic​, while some regions are experiencing higher-than-usual RSV cases, which can affect everyone and has resulted in more children going to hospital.


Chart via BCCDC

You can protect yourself and your loved ones by:

  • Staying up-to-date with your vaccines including flu shots and COVID-19 shots / boosters. (Talk to your nurse practitioner or health centre if you are unsure about when/where to get these vaccines.)
  • Staying home, and keeping your children home  when feeling unwell.
  • Washing your hands frequently.
  • Sneezing into your elbow – not into your hands – and away from other people.
  • Disposing of used tissues immediately.
  • Keeping your hands away from your eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • Wearing a well-fitted, high-quality mask in public indoor places, as well as at outdoor gatherings where physical distancing is not possible.

Most healthy people with respiratory illnesses will recover on their own at home without needing to go to a hospital or see a doctor. If you do become sick with a respiratory illness, you can manage your recovery by:

  • Getting plenty of rest.
  • Drinking a lot of water to keep hydrated.
  • Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for fever or pain.
  • Calling 811 for non-emergency additional advice. 
  • First Nations people without a primary care provider can contact the First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day

You should seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, experiencing chest pain or worsening symptoms, or having other concerns. This is especially true for people who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with a respiratory illness such as young children, the frail and elderly, and those with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions.

For the past two years, thanks to the use of COVID-19 preventative measures, which also work against other respiratory illnesses such as RSV, many British Columbians did not experience seasonal respiratory illnesses. In fact, many children never had a chance to be exposed to and develop immunity to RSV, which usually happens by two years of age. This is why hospitals are reporting more cases of children with RSV. (See these links for more information on RSV home treatments and when to bring a child to hospital.)

Let's make use of the lessons learned during the pandemic to help ourselves stay healthy and well this fall and winter.


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