During winter, there is usually an increase in infectious respiratory illnesses caused by a range of viruses such as RSV that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.

These include

  • Colds
  • Influenza-like Illnesses (ILI) – includes RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), parainfluenza viruses and rhinoviruses
  • Influenza

RSV or respiratory syncytial virus spreads very easily from person to person through infected droplets of saliva or mucus. These can be passed on by breathing, speaking, sneezing or coughing.

Most people take from 7 to 10 days to recover from influenza-like illnesses but they usually get better on their own. In some vulnerable people like the very young, elderly or those with complex medical conditions, these viral infections can spread into the lungs and cause severe illness.


Influenza-like Illness can cause a range of respiratory symptoms, including:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Loss of appetite or difficulty feeding
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea an also occur (especially in children)

Anyone who are unwell with any of the above symptoms need to stay home and away from others, until they have been completely well for at least 24 hours.

If adults or children develop concerning symptoms, such as rapid breathing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe vomiting, or if a child is not responding or is difficult to wake up, they should seek medical attention immediately – including calling 111 for an ambulance if it is an emergency.

In very young infants, irritability or decreased activity might be the only signs your child is becoming more unwell and needs to see a doctor. If you are concerned about your child's health (or your health) call your general practice or Healthline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 611 116.

An information sheet for parents on influenza-like illness in children is here

Information for Early Learning Services is here

Many of the ILI symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19. COVID-19 testing is important for any adult or young person with these symptoms.  Unlike teenagers and adults, children 11 years and under with these symptoms don't always need to be tested for COVID-19.

If a child has been in contact with a COVID-19 case, returned from a place where there is COVID-19, or left managed isolation in the last 14 days, the parents are advised to ring Healthline (0800 611 116) for advice on testing.

Covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow, and regular and thorough hand washing/drying are important steps to prevent the spread of illness.


Last updated 5.8.2021

For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
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