Everything we need to know about viruses



A pneumologist tells us what we need to know about viral infections and what we should do to avoid them.

After a dry summer, which viruses should we watch out for during autumn?

Every year, as summer ends and the first autumn chill sets in, we observe the first incidents of seasonal viral infections, such as influenza, the common cold, etc. These viruses, for the most part, affect our respiratory system. Constant and steep temperature changes observed during autumn are the main cause of virus infections. At the same time, unbalanced diets, fatigue and increased humidity are also contributing to incidents of nasopharyngitis, tonsillitis, etc.

Which viruses appear at this time of year and affect both young and old?

The common cold is the most common autumnal illness in western societies. It is caused by a large number of viruses, most commonly those of the rhinovirus family (with more than 100 strains), but also by coronaviruses, the respiratory syncytial virus, influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses and adenoviruses.

Which vulnerable groups must be especially careful?

Viruses are usually treated easily. But what usually worries us are the complications caused by the aforementioned viruses. These are more commonly observed in the so-called vulnerable groups, i.e. extreme ages (the elderly and young children), smokers, asthmatics, those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, other chronic respiratory diseases, patients with heart problems, diabetics, cancer patients, patients with nephropathy or those who are immunosuppressed (e.g. due to chronic intake of cortisone, chemotherapy, splenectomy or transplantation). Complications include sinusitis, pharyngitis, otitis media, bronchitis, pneumonia and, more rarely, pericarditis. For this reason, these groups should strictly adhere to hygiene rules and the precautions mentioned below, as well as get vaccinated with the influenza and pneumococcus vaccines, if there are no contraindications. They should, of course, always talk and consult with their personal physician.

What should be careful of in order to avoid these viruses?

Viruses causing respiratory infections are transmitted from person to person, mainly through cough, sneezing and talking. These viruses become harmful if they enter the body. They attach themselves to the inside of the nose or throat mucosa (so patients report nose discomfort or the so-called “throat scratching”) and spread to the respiratory system. It is therefore recommended to avoid overcrowding in closed spaces, to cover the mouth and nose during coughing or sneezing using disposable tissues which are then disposed of directly in special-purpose containers, and to follow proper personal hygiene (thorough handwashing; especially while preparing or before a meal, using personal or disposable towels). The use of hand antiseptics (alcohol-based or alcohol-free) is highly recommended. It is also advisable to frequently renew the air in confined spaces. Special attention should also be paid to parents, as nurseries and kindergartens often become nesting grounds for viral diseases.

Is it true that prevention is the best treatment?

Of course it is true. We must therefore constantly keep the aforementioned precautionary measures in mind and carefully follow them at all times. We should also eat properly, dress suitably and of course not skip vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcus, especially where appropriate. It goes without saying that the national vaccination program for children should be followed.

Does our diet play a role? What should we consume?

A balanced diet rich in vitamins and natural antioxidants can act as a shield against viruses and also help towards faster recovery. For this reason, we need to follow a diet that will contain all food groups and especially fresh fruit and vegetables. We could certainly use the thousands of nutritional supplements containing vitamins, antioxidants and immune system boosters, but it is preferable to take them through food. Further, it is very important to adequately hydrate our body on a daily basis but also when we are infected by a virus.