Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) are a group of respiratory diseases caused by various microorganisms (viruses and bacteria); they are usually contagious and therefore spread quickly. They are considered the leading cause of morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases worldwide; In particular, data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that nearly four million people die each year from these infections.

ARIs are one of the most common reasons for seeking medical attention or hospitalization. They are especially prone to affect children and the elderly; however, people of other ages can also suffer from them.

Transmission mode: common denominator

The usual form of transmission of most acute respiratory infections is through droplets from coughs and sneezes emitted by humans; that is, microorganisms are transmitted when an uninfected person has close contact with a sick person. In addition, a person can become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their nose or mouth.

The incidence of ARI and its distribution in the population varies depending on various factors, such as environmental conditions (weather, season, temperature, overcrowding and general hygiene), personal factors (age, immune and nutritional status, presence of other diseases or smoking), the characteristics of the virus or bacteria (mode of transmission and virulence), and the effectiveness of medical care combined with infection prevention and control measures (eg vaccination).

Types of acute respiratory infections and possible complications

1. Flu

This is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that affects the nose, throat and, in some cases, the lungs. It can be mild or severe and in some cases can lead to death.

Influenza can affect anyone and serious health consequences can occur at any age; however, people aged 65 and older, pregnant women, children under the age of five, and people with certain chronic conditions (diabetes, heart disease, or asthma) are most at risk.

Possible complications of influenza include pneumonia, ear infections, sinusitis, and even exacerbation of chronic diseases.

  1. Respiratory syncytial or syncytial virus (RSV)

This respiratory virus causes infections in the lungs and respiratory system in humans. It is usually quite common among children (most of them become infected by the age of two), but it can also infect adults.

In healthy people, its symptoms are mild (nasal congestion, dry cough, headache and sore throat, and low-grade fever) and may resemble the common cold, which can be treated with self-help measures. However, RSV can cause serious infection in other populations, such as children under 12 months of age (including premature babies), people with heart, lung or weak immune systems, and the elderly. In these cases, the signs are a more intense cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and even cyanosis (blue skin due to lack of oxygen).

RSV can cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis; in fact, it is the more common cause of both. In addition, middle ear infections, especially in infants and young children, asthma, the possibility of re-infection with the virus, and even the need for hospitalization for observation and treatment of any respiratory problems.

  1. Pneumococcus

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae or pneumococcus. It includes various types of infections – lungs and others with possible long-term consequences, among which is pneumococcal pneumonia, which is estimated to lead to the death of about one in 20 people who suffer from it.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), pneumococcus is the second cause of community-acquired pneumonia that may require hospitalization, after respiratory syncytial virus. Complications of pneumococcal pneumonia include infection of the space between the membranes surrounding the lungs and chest, the sac surrounding the heart, and airway obstruction.

Similarly, this bacterium can cause other infections, such as pneumococcal meningitis, an infection of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord. It is estimated that one in 12 children and one in six older adults may die from the infection, while others may experience long-term problems such as hearing loss and developmental delay.

Pneumococcus can also cause sepsis (an acute reaction of the body to an infection), the complications of which can include everything from kidney failure to damage to the lungs, heart, and brain.

In general, pneumococcal infections are more common between the ages of two months and three years, with the risk increasing again after age 65.

  1. COVID-19

Covid-19 disease is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and those who contract it may experience mild to moderate respiratory illness. However, some others may suffer severely from it and may even need medical attention. Symptoms after Covid-19 include: fatigue, shortness of breath, shortness of breath and cough; muscle or joint pain, blood clots, and problems with blood vessels.

In addition, patients with severe disease may develop inflammation, immune system problems, kidney, skin, and heart damage, and other conditions (diabetes).

Anyone can get Covid-19, but older people and people with other conditions (cardiovascular, cancer, or respiratory) are more likely to develop a serious illness.

  1. adenovirus

Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that often cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, bronchiolitis, and even pneumonia. As a result of this latter condition, children with pneumonia can develop chronic lung disease. Another disease they can develop is intestinal tract infections (before the age of five), including blockage of part of the intestine.

What to do to prevent possible infection?

According to Pfizer, the best time to stop a virus or bacterium is before it can infect a person. In this regard, vaccines represent one of the greatest public health advances in preventing possible infection with diseases such as influenza, pneumococcal disease and Covid-19. Its widespread use has made it possible to control, eliminate or nearly eliminate many infectious diseases.

Other ways to prevent the transmission of these infectious microorganisms are:

  • Avoid close contact with people with respiratory conditions to minimize contact with droplets or saliva.
  • Wash your hands regularly, especially after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Keep the environment clean.
  • Avoid sharing cutlery, toothbrushes, and towels for food and drink.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when sneezing.
  • Try not to smoke around babies as they are at higher risk of getting RSV.

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