Conversation Guide: Respiratory Illnesses

Afghan woman wiping daughter's nose

Influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the common cold, and COVID-19 are all respiratory illnesses that are more common during the winter months. Some people can get seriously ill from these illnesses, but effective prevention, testing and treatment can help communities avoid the worst outcomes.

This conversation guide is aimed at equipping service providers to talk with Afghan newcomers about respiratory illnesses and how to stay protected and keep loved ones protected as well. 

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What are respiratory illnesses?

Influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the common cold, and COVID-19 are all respiratory illnesses. Respiratory illnesses mostly affect your nose, throat, and lungs.

What are the symptoms of respiratory illnesses?

People with respiratory illnesses might feel some of these symptoms:

  • Fever 
  • Cough 
  • Fatigue (tiredness) 
  • Sore throat 
  • Runny or stuffy nose 
  • Muscle or body aches 
  • Headaches 
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

How do people get respiratory illnesses?

Respiratory illnesses spread from person to person. When someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or talks, germs get in the air near them. When this happens, other people can breathe it in and get sick. With some respiratory illnesses, people can also get sick from touching surfaces that have germs on them.

You may be able to spread respiratory illnesses to someone else before you know you are sick, when you are sick with symptoms, and even after you are feeling better. 

Why should I worry about respiratory illnesses?

Some people can get very ill and even die from respiratory illnesses. Respiratory illnesses can also cause other health problems like pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and infections of the brain.

Some people will become hospitalized or die from respiratory illnesses. Depending on the illness, older people, young children, babies, pregnant people, and people who already have certain health problems are more likely to become seriously ill.

How do I know if I have the flu, RSV, COVID-19, or the common cold?

The symptoms of RSV, the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19 are very similar. The only way to know for sure which illness you have is to get tested. You may be able to get a test at a doctor’s office, a community testing site, work, school, or a pharmacy. Testing for respiratory illnesses is usually free for people with health insurance, including Medicaid. Many pharmacies also sell at-home tests you can do yourself to test for COVID-19. These tests do not check for other respiratory illnesses.

How can I stay safe from respiratory illnesses?

Getting vaccinated is the best and safest way to protect yourself, your family and your community from respiratory illnesses. There are vaccines for the flu, RSV, and COVID-19. Vaccines can prevent you from getting sick. Even if you do get sick, vaccines protect you from getting seriously ill.

Staying home from work, school or social events anytime you feel sick is one of the most important things you can do to protect your family, friends and community.

If you are not feeling well, covering coughs and sneezes can protect other people from getting sick. Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth is another way to protect yourself and your community.

When gathering from others indoors, open windows or use portable air purifiers to reduce the spread of illnesses.

Washing your hands and surfaces frequently can protect you and others from respiratory illnesses.

Choose for more casual verbal greetings when meeting family and friends during times of respiratory concerns. Refraining from the traditional gestures like hugs, handshakes, and cheek kisses can reduce the risk of spreading illnesses.

Are the vaccines safe?

Many vaccines are safe and effective for adults, children, and babies as young as 6 months old. 

You cannot get a respiratory illness from the RSV, flu, or COVID-19 vaccines. Mild side effects are normal, and serious side effects are extremely rare.

Flu and COVID-19 vaccines are safe for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding. It is important for pregnant women to get the vaccines because they protect women during their pregnancy and can protect infants in their first few weeks or months of life.

Is it safe to get all the vaccines at once?

It is safe to be vaccinated against the flu, COVID-19 and RSV all at the same time.

How long does the vaccine take to work?

It takes about two weeks after your most recent RSV, flu or COVID-19 vaccine for your body to learn how to protect you against the illnesses.

When Should I get vaccinated?

Because respiratory illnesses tend to be more common in the fall and winter, the best time to get vaccines for respiratory illnesses is August, September and October.

How often do I need to get vaccinated?

The flu and COVID-19 are always changing. To be protected you need to get the flu vaccine every fall, and may need boosters for COVID-19 regularly.

Where do I get vaccinated?

RSV, COVID-19, and flu vaccines are offered in many doctor’s offices and clinics. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you may be able to get your vaccines somewhere else like a health department, pharmacy, and even in some schools and workplaces.

How much do vaccines cost?

Vaccines are usually free for people with health insurance, including Medicaid.