Upper respiratory infection season has arrived
9/26/2023 by Sidna Tulledge-Scheitel, M.D., M.P.H.
It’s that time of year: Cooler weather, changing leaves, and unfortunately an uptick in upper respiratory infections.
Respiratory illnesses are a common occurrence in the fall and winter, with seasonal cases of influenza, strep throat and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) likely increasing over the next few months. COVID-19 also remains active in our community, with many areas seeing a recent rise in cases.
Below you’ll find a few reminders to guide you through this year’s upper respiratory infection season.
For most people, respiratory illnesses can be treated at home.
Mayo Clinic’s guidelines for the testing and treatment of upper respiratory infections, including COVID-19, are informed by expertise and best practices from Mayo’s Department of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We typically recommend clinic-based testing and treatment only for those at high risk for severe illness (age 65 or older, immunocompromised, pregnant, have other complex health conditions, etc.).
If you have respiratory symptoms and aren’t high-risk, you probably don’t need to get tested or make an appointment with your provider. Getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids and using over-the-counter medications can help you feel better and aid recovery.
Use Check Symptoms to assess your condition.
If you’re feeling sick, Check Symptoms in the patient portal is the fastest and most convenient way to assess your condition and help you determine if you should seek care. The Check Symptoms tool will guide you through a series of questions about your symptoms, then provide a recommendation for your next steps.
If you need to make an appointment for testing or to see a provider, Check Symptoms can connect you to self-scheduling options within the portal. Appointment options may include virtual visits so you can be seen quickly from the comfort of home.
Use home antigen tests to test for COVID-19.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, home antigen tests are the fastest, most convenient and least expensive way to get tested.
Unlike PCR tests, antigen tests are widely available through commercial pharmacies and big-box grocery stores. They don’t require a clinic appointment, won’t get sent to the lab for results and can be used from the comfort of home.
You can self-report a positive test result through the COVID-19 home antigen attestation questionnaire in the patient portal
Tests for other infections, such as influenza and strep, are recommended only for high-risk patients or those who meet certain criteria. For most people, testing for influenza or other infections will not change your treatment plan.
Prevention is the best protection against upper respiratory infections.
Following simple prevention guidelines can go a long way in protecting you and your family members from illness. Make sure you wash your hands, avoid prolonged contact with sick individuals and stay current on your recommended vaccines, especially for influenza and COVID-19.
If you do become ill, help protect others by staying home. Wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask if contact with other people is unavoidable, and follow isolation guidelines for returning to work or school.
Sidna Tulledge-Scheitel, M.D., M.P.H., is a physician in Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care in Rochester. She is also the medical director for Mayo Clinic’s Midwest Virtual Care Team, a group of clinicians who manage upper respiratory infection testing and treatment protocols for patients in Rochester and across Mayo Clinic Health System.