Respiratory Illnesses

Respiratory infections such as influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 usually increase in the fall and winter, so physicians and other health care workers are on alert and want you to help prevent the spread, be informed of the signs and symptoms of each illness and take the right actions when experiencing them.


Government of Canada states children from 6 months to less than 9 years of age who have never had a flu shot before should receive 2 doses. It’s recommended that the interval between doses be at least 4 weeks apart during the current flu season.

Benefits of the flu shot:

  • prevents you from getting very sick from flu-related complications
  • protects people close to you because, when vaccinated, you’re less likely to spread the virus to others
  • reduces the overall burden on the health care system during respiratory virus season
  • reduces your chances of being infected with the flu and other respiratory viruses at the same time, including COVID-19, which could lead to serious complications

The flu shot won’t protect you against COVID-19, so it’s also very important to be up-to-date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations and any other recommended vaccines.

Please consult with your primary care provider or your pharmacist about getting the flu shot.


According to Government of Canada, evidence shows that vaccines used in Canada are very effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

It’s important to receive a primary series and a booster dose (or doses) when eligible for the best protection against COVID-19.

Book a COVID-19 vaccination or booster dose here.

Check out our COVID-19 Resources webpage for more information.


Government of Canada states there are 2 medications (monoclonal antibodies) that are approved for use to prevent RSV disease.

  • Palivizumab/Synagis (AstraZeneca) has been available in Canada for decades and is given monthly to prevent disease.
  • Nirsevimab/Beyfortus (Sanofi) is a newly authorized product and 1 dose may protect infants for up to 6 months.

These products cannot be used to treat infants who already have RSV disease.

For older adults, Arexvy (GSK) is a newly authorized vaccine to prevent RSV disease for those 60 years and older.

Please consult with your primary care provider for eligibility of these medications or vaccines.


Symptoms for all three viruses include common cold-like symptoms such as:

  • runny/stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • overall fatigue or lack of energy

But there are a few symptoms that stand out for the flu, COVID-19, and RSV:

Flu COVID – 19  RSV
According to the Government of Canada, the sudden onset of the following symptoms can indicate someone is suffering from the flu:

  • high fever
  • cough
  • muscle aches and pain
  • loss of appetite
  • chills

In children, other symptoms can include:

  • not drinking or eating as usual
  • not waking up or interacting with others
  • irritable (not wanting to play or be held)
COVID-19 symptoms can include the above, but can also cause:

  • sneezing
  • new or worsening cough
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • a sudden loss of taste or smell
  • feverish
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain)

For a full list of symptoms, please visit this website.

RSV Symptoms in infants can be harder to spot. The only symptoms they might show are:

  • decreased activity
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty feeding
  • irritability

In children and adults, common symptoms also include:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • wheezing
  • fever
  • rhinorrhea (thin, clear discharge from the nose)
  • pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx resulting in a sore throat)
  • bronchiolitis

For more information, please visit this website.



For any respiratory illness, please stay home to prevent the spread. Avoid close contact with people until symptoms dissipate and you start to feel well again. If you’re a person at high risk of complications from the flu or COVID-19  and you develop symptoms, contact a health care provider.


Flu symptoms can be treated with:

  • rest
  • clear fluids, like water
  • medications that reduce fevers or aches

Note: Over-the-counter cough and flu medicine should not be given to children younger than 6 years old. It’s only safe to do so if you’re advised to by your health care provider.


Adults and children with mild COVID-19 symptoms can stay at home while recovering. You don’t need to go to the hospital if symptoms are mild.

If you’re concerned about your symptoms, consult your health care provider. They may recommend steps or medications you can take to relieve some of your symptoms, like fever and cough.

Learn more here about caring for yourself or others while infected with COVID-19.


Usually, RSV infections are mild and clear up on their own in 1 to 2 weeks.

If you or your child are infected, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. You can use over-the-counter products such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage fever. Speak to your health care provider if you’re unable to use these medications.

If your child has symptoms, talk to their health care provider and give them medications as directed.

In severe cases, a person who is having trouble breathing or becomes dehydrated may need to be admitted to the hospital. They may need oxygen and care. If you or your child are having difficulty breathing or are dehydrated, seek immediate medical care.


Although you or a loved one may feel like you’ve been “hit by a bus,” respiratory illness symptoms typically last about a week and don’t require a visit to the Emergency Department. In fact, visiting the Emergency Department only exposes others with serious illnesses/injuries to your germs, and exposes you to theirs.

But there are certain times when a person with a respiratory illness does need to seek emergency medical treatment. Watch for these signs of an emergency when you have a respiratory illness:

  • Sustained fever of more than 102 degrees and any combination of the below:
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain or severe abdominal pain
    • Confusion
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Severe vomiting or vomiting that won’t stop

If you or someone you are caring for experiences these symptoms seek medical attention right away.


Signs of a medical emergency in children can be different from those in adults.

The following table provides an overview of symptoms to look for that likely mean your child is experiencing a medical emergency and you should seek emergent care.

Breathing Problem:

  • respiratory distress (working hard to breathe or breathing faster than normal)
  • pale skin, whitish or blue lips
  • asthma or wheezing and not responding to prescribed medications
Breathing Problem:

  • nasal congestion and cough (even if it interrupts sleep)
  • symptoms of the ‘common cold’
  • mild asthma or wheezing that responds to usual puffers

  • child is less than 3 months old
  • child has immune system problems or complex chronic health problems
  • child is very sleepy or difficult to wake
  • fever lasts more than 5 days

  • in healthy and vaccinated babies
  • in children who appear generally well
Vomiting or diarrhea:

  • child is less than 3 months old
  • repeated vomiting and unable to keep liquids down
  • vomit or diarrhea contains large amount of blood
  • vomit is bright green
  • dehydration with dry mouth or no urine for more than 12 hours
Vomiting or diarrhea:

  • vomiting or diarrhea less than 3-4 times a day
  • ongoing diarrhea after ‘stomach flu’ (this can last up to 2 weeks)

For non-urgent medical needs use other options of care, such as calling Tele-Care 811, visiting an after-hours clinic, consulting with a pharmacist, or booking a virtual appointment through Visit for additional information to choose the best option for care.

If you are unsure if your medical condition is urgent, please call Tele-Care 811 to discuss the type of medical attention needed.

When you are sick, your first thought may be to ask a health care provider for antibiotics. However, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, not viral infections such as COVID-19 or RSV.

“A lot of respiratory illnesses will not respond to antibiotics, so seeking a prescription is not helpful. In some cases, it can worsen existing symptoms by adding symptoms of diarrhea.” – Kevin Dickson, Physician Assistant at Horizon’s Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton.

If you have questions about what type of care you require, please call Tele-Care 811 or visit

Further resources

We encourage everyone to get their flu shot and ensure they stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines. Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep you and those around you safe.

Remember: keep the Emergency Department for emergencies.

For non-urgent medical needs, we encourage you to use other options including Tele-Care 811; pharmacies, after-hours clinics or virtual care options such as For more information on which option is best for you, visit

Walk-in clinics can treat minor or non-urgent illnesses such as a sore throat, earache, or rash. Click here for more information about where to find walk-in clinics.

Using other options helps ensure New Brunswickers can access the care they need, while also ensuring our Emergency Department teams can continue to provide quality emergency care.

If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or proceed to your local Emergency Department. If you are unsure if your medical condition is urgent, please call Tele-Care 811 to discuss the type of medical attention needed.