Preventing respiratory infections

Most respiratory infections are caused by a virus, like flu viruses, RS virus or coronavirus. They can make some people very ill. For instance, RS virus can be dangerous for very young children. And people with underlying health issues and the elderly have a higher risk of becoming severely ill from coronavirus or the flu. But a viral infection can also cause prolonged symptoms in people without underlying health issues. This is the case with post-COVID-19 syndrome (long COVID), for example. 

That’s why you should try to minimise the chance of passing on a respiratory virus.

Symptoms of a respiratory infection

The most common symptoms of a respiratory infection are coughing, sneezing, a sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. Other symptoms include fever, muscle ache, headache and fatigue.

If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, follow the advice below to help avoid spreading the virus:

  • If you are ill stay at home.
  • If you are not ill but do have symptoms, work from home if you can. If necessary, discuss this with your employer.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow.
  • Keep your distance from other people.
  • Avoid in-person contact with people who could become seriously ill from a cold or flu virus. If this is impossible, for example because you are an informal carer, wear a face mask.

The following rules apply to everyone:

  • Good hygiene helps prevent the spread of disease and can also stop you becoming ill yourself. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and do this often. Ventilate indoor spaces well.

Ventilate indoor spaces

  • Fresh air helps to limit the spread of viruses.
  • Always make sure a window or air vent is open or that your ventilation system is on.
  • Check how good the ventilation is in your home.
  • Air your home several times a day by opening windows and doors wide. Do the same before and after you receive visitors.
  • In shops, restaurants and bars, at school, at work and in other places where there are a lot of people, keep windows open. Or set the ventilation system so that enough outdoor air flows into the building.


Vaccines are available against some viruses that cause respiratory infections, including flu viruses and coronavirus. These vaccines help protect against severe illness.

More information about influenza and the flu vaccine is available on the RIVM website.