Respiratory Illnesses and RSV

⚠ When to go to the emergency department:

If you or your child are in distress (significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting, difficulty to rouse, confusion or have significant worsening of any chronic symptoms), go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1.

  • If your infant is younger than three months old and has a fever
  • Very sleepy or difficult to wake
  • Respiratory distress (working hard to breathe) pale skin or blue lips, asthma not responding to usual puffers
  • Repeated vomiting and unable to keep any liquids down for eight hours or more
  • Vomiting or diarrhea containing a large amount of blood
  • Signs of dehydration with dry mouth or no urination for eight hours or more

See this helpful factsheet from CHEO.

Common symptoms of respiratory illnesses

  • Fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath, muscle aches, fatigue, vomiting/diarrhea, abdominal pain.

What to do if you have symptoms

  • Stay home until you are fever-free (without using fever-reducing medication AND your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (48 hours for vomiting/diarrhea).
  • If you can’t stay home: wear a well-fitting mask and avoid non-essential mask-less activities for 10 days from when symptoms started.
  • Don’t visit those at high-risk of severe illness including those in long-term care, retirement homes or in hospital.

How respiratory viruses spread

  • Through the air when a person coughs or sneezes. Droplets from the cough or sneeze can reach another person’s nose or mouth and be inhaled, or they may come in contact with a person’s eyes or mouth.  Being close (less than two meters apart) to someone with the infection who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Direct contact: such as kissing an infected person.
  • Indirect contact: such as touching a surface, like a toy, doorknob or another person, that has germs (virus) on it, then touching their mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.

Reducing the spread of respiratory illness

  • Keep your vaccinations up to date including getting your annual flu vaccine and any COVID-19 boosters/doses you are eligible for.
  • Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home and workplace.
  • Wear a mask:
    • To protect yourself from viral respiratory illnesses.
    • To protect others at higher risk of severe respiratory illness.
    • When you’re recovering from illness.
  • How to Protect Yourself and Others from Respiratory Viruses (Public Health Ontario)

Treatment of respiratory illness

Most respiratory illnesses can be treated at home. Treatment for COVID-19 is available and must be taken within a few days of symptoms starting.


COVID-19 can cause mild cold-like symptoms to severe lung infections. Anti-viral treatment is available for those at higher risk of severe disease and complications. Vaccines for COVID-19 are available. Learn more about COVID-19 symptoms, vaccination, and treatment.   

Influenza (Flu) 

Flu generally occurs in the fall and winter months. Young children (under 5) and older adults are at higher risk of severe disease and complications. Annual influenza (flu) vaccines are coming soon. Learn more about flu symptoms, vaccination, and treatment.    

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) 

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infects the lungs and airways. It causes colds and is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in young infants and toddlers. Most children will have at least one RSV infection by the age of two. The infection is most severe in young babies and older adults and can cause serious lung infections that may require hospitalization. However, most infants and children infected by RSV typically experience mild symptoms that last a few days. Older children and adults also get RSV but symptoms are typically mild, similar to a common cold. 

After exposure to the virus, it can take two to eight days before children become sick and are contagious for up to three to eight days. Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or child care centers, and can then transmit the virus to other members of the family. 

Symptoms of RSV can include: 

  • Coughing, runny nose, fever, wheezing, decreased appetite and energy, and irritability.

Vaccination and treatment

How to treat RSV at home?

  • Use over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and pain. Do not give ibuprofen to babies under six months old without first speaking to your health care provider. Never give aspirin to children. 
  • Offer plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. If your baby is having trouble drinking, try to clear nasal congestion with a bulb syringe or saline nose drops. 
  • A lukewarm bath or wet face cloth may help your child feel more comfortable. Avoid cold baths because they can make your child shiver, raising their temperature. 
  • Dress your child in light clothing. If your child starts to shiver, add warmer clothing and remove them when the shivering stops. 
  • Consult your health care provider before giving your child non-prescription cold medicines or if you have concerns about your child’s symptoms. 

Common Cold 

The ‘common cold’ is caused by viruses (germs) that infect the nose, throat and sinuses causing upper respiratory tract infections. Colds are most common in the fall and winter when people are indoors and in close contact with each other. They're so common in fact that it's normal for children under five years old to have as many as 12 upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in one year. Upper respiratory tract infections, like colds, cause symptoms in the nose, throat and sinuses. There is no vaccination available for the common coldSee this helpful video on ways to beat the common cold at home. You can also find more information on CHEO’s webpage.  

Helpful resources

Download our respiratory illness factsheet, also available in French and Inuktitut

Common cold


Monitoring respiratory illness activity

OPH will continue to monitor the COVID-19, influenza and RSV situation in Ottawa using a variety of monitoring indicators. Visit our respiratory dashboard to see the levels of respiratory viruses circulating in our community - this will help you make informed decisions for you and your family about risk of respiratory illness this season.

Having trouble viewing the report? Try the full screen mode.

COVID-19, influenza and RSV will continue to circulate in our community.

The risk of severe outcomes from respiratory viruses is greater for some people than others. This webpage provides important information and resources to help residents of Ottawa reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses and manage their symptoms.

Assess your risk, stay on top of respiratory virus activity

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