The most common cause of an acute upper respiratory infection is a rhinovirus. Rhinoviruses cause a myriad of symptoms, and illnesses including the common cold, a sore throat, ear infections and infections of the sinuses. Less commonly, they can cause pneumonia and bronchiolitis, which is a common lung infection in your children and infants. Bronchiolitis is different from bronchitis because it affects a different part of the lung, the bronchioles. Rhinoviruses cause most all of the respiratory illnesses. They are not treated with antibiotics because they are viruses.
There are a few other viruses that less commonly cause upper respiratory infections. These are adenovirus, coxsackie virus, parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus.
While viruses are usually the cause of acute upper respiratory infection, some bacteria can cause these symptoms. Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci, group C beta-hemolytic streptococci, Corynebacterium diphtheriae (diphtheria), Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhea) and Chlamydia pneumoniae (chlamydia).
Other types of acute respiratory infection include sinusitis (sinus infection), pharyngitis (sore throat), laryngitis, epiglottitis, and tracheobronchitis. Laryngitis occurs when you have inflammation in the larynx, sometimes also referred to as the voice box. Epiglottis is a condition where your windpipe is covered, causing swelling and blocking the flor of air into your lungs. It can be life threatening. Similarly, tracheobronchitis is inflammation of the trachea and bronchi, causing purulent sputum, cough, and fever. It mimics the symptoms of pneumonia, in many cases.
Who’s at risk for having an acute upper respiratory infection?
Older people, younger children, and people with weakened immune systems due to some other factor are most at risk for getting a virus that causes upper respiratory infection. If you work with the public a great deal you are also more at risk just by the sheer number of people that you come into contact with on a daily basis. This is especially true of people who work in retail positions, handling money and credit card transactions.
Acute upper respiratory infection is spread through two different ways of transmission. In the air, tiny, minute droplets or aerosols can spread the virus, and from contaminated surfaces, also called fomites. Those who are in close quarters with large groups of people, or people that work with the public. Bring around large groups of people put you at risk for contracting a virus. The wintertime is when people are enclosed indoors with crowds tend to put you at more risk. Practicing good handwashing strategies and try not to use your hands to wipe your eyes or your mouth without first washing them. While this is good practice, it’s hugely important to remember during times where illness is spreading like wildfire. Your eyes and mouth are both pathways to allowing germs inside of your body.
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