Skip to content

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Beyond the Flu and Bird Flu

Find out what's really ailing you this cold and flu season.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Turn on the evening news and you are bound to hear about the bird flu and how it's en route to the U.S., and when the anchorman is not forecasting such a pandemic, it's the regular flu that ends up in the spotlight. But every year, a legion of nameless, faceless germy villains stalk children and adults, wreaking plenty of havoc on our respiratory tract. An all-points bulletin rarely goes out on these throat thugs, but doctors say they have rap sheets as long as winter itself.

"I think the general concept that people have when they get sick in winter is that they have the flu or a cold, and you'll often hear, 'Why did I get this? I got the flu vaccine.' [But] they don't recognize that there are a lot of other things that look just like the flu," says germ detective Edward Walsh, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Rochester and faculty member of the university's infectious disease unit. "If the public only thinks that the flu is what they need to be protected against, there is not going to be a public desire to have vaccines for other viruses, and if there is no demand, companies won't bother to make them."

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

The Truth Behind Mom's Cold and Flu Advice

Mothers are celebrated (if sometimes vilified) for their eagerness to advise their children on matters big and small: how to behave, what to wear, whom to marry, when to have kids ... and, oh yes, how to stay healthy during cold and flu season. Does science back up what Dr. Mom told you about the common cold? Or was she full of hot air? Here's what real doctors have to say about 10 familiar cold-busting tips:

Read the The Truth Behind Mom's Cold and Flu Advice article > >

The best way to prevent and treat such respiratory tract invaders as metapneumovirus, coronaviruses, Haemophilus influenzae, parainfluenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is to recognize them as they are -- armed and dangerous. That's why WebMD put together a "Most Wanted" list of the stealth bugs that may be hijacking your health.


You may think it's the flu, when, really, RSV is responsible. In a paper published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers estimated that the bug may be responsible for more than 177,500 hospitalizations of adults each year, and they predict that 14,000 elderly and high-risk adults die annually from an RSV infection. What's more, the CDC presented estimates that 51,000 to 82,000 hospitalizations occur yearly in the U.S. in young children due to RSV-related bronchiolitis (inflammation in the small air passageways of the lungs) or lower respiratory tract infection (such as pneumonia). Those with certain pre-existing medical conditions would be more vulnerable to an infection and at higher risk for death. Yes, this low-life preys on kids and the elderly the most, leaving its calling card of bronchitis and pneumonia in the youngest of folks. RSV infection occurs between November and April, although there may be seasonal variation in different regions of the country.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat