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Common Viral Infections

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Updated March 27, 2014

Millions of people get sick with viral infections every year. These viruses can cause a wide range of symptoms and result in everything from the common cold to AIDS. Here we will discuss some of the most common viral infections.

1. Common Cold

The most common viral infection in the world, the common cold, can be caused by many different viruses. Most often, the cold is caused by an adenovirus, coronavirus or rhinovirus. Symptoms are typically mild and last between a week and 10 days.

Most adults get two to four colds a year, while children may get up to a dozen.

Use common prevention measures to reduce your chances of getting a cold, such as washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer when you don't have access to soap and water, and avoiding others who are sick.

2. Influenza (The Flu)

Influenza is the virus that causes the seasonal flu. There are hundreds of strains of influenza that can cause flu symptoms, and the virus mutates from year to year. Although the flu isn't serious for everyone, hundreds of thousands of people in the US are hospitalized every year. Worldwide, it is estimated that between 250,000 and half a million people die from the flu each year.

 

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Hundreds of studies have proven that the vaccine is both safe and effective. We have many resources available to help you understand more about the flu vaccine. If you aren't sure if it is right for you and your family, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider.

 

3. Bronchitis

Bronchitis may be caused by a bacteria, virus, or even chemicals, but the viral version is the most common. It can cause a cough that lasts for weeks and is a common complication of both the common cold and the flu.

If you are concerned that you might have bronchitis, contact your health care provider. Treatment will depend on your symptoms and the type of bronchitis that you have.

 

4. Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, is a very common viral infection. This unpleasant illness causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, and is highly contagious.

Gastroenteritis may be caused by viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus, among others.

 

5. Some Ear Infections

It used to be that all ear infections were treated with antibiotics because it was believed that most were caused by bacteria. More recent research has shown that a majority of middle ear infections are actually viral and will resolve on their own without treatment.

Ear infections are far more common in children than they are in adults. Treatment usually depends on how much pain the infection is causing and other symptoms a person is experiencing.

 

6. Croup

Croup can be caused by many different viruses. It occurs almost exclusively in children under the age of 8, but can be very scary for both the child that gets it and their parents. Croup is characterized by a cough that sounds like a seal barking. Some children may also experience stridor, which is a whistling sound made when the child is inhaling.

Croup can often be treated at home by breathing in steamy or cold air. If the cough or stridor is not relieved by home treatment, a visit to the doctor or emergency room (depending on severity and time of day) may be necessary.

7. RSV

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a viral infection that can be life threatening for premature babies up to the age of 2 but causes typical cold symptoms in older children and adults.

RSV creates a lot of mucus and it may be very difficult for very young children to breathe when this occurs. Many babies who were premature and get RSV during the first two years of life need to be hospitalized. Synagis shots are available for premature babies who are at high risk for RSV to cut down on their chances of getting it.

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