COPD and Lung Viruses

As the season transitions from summer to fall, we will see more than the leaves change and cooler weather; we also expect to see a rise in respiratory viruses. People living with COPD or other lung diseases can be more susceptible to experiencing severe illness if they contract a lung virus. The following are a couple of the most common respiratory viruses and ways to protect yourself from them.

The Flu

The flu is a respiratory illness which infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It is spread through tiny droplets when infected people cough, sneeze, and talk. It can also spread when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their own mouth, nose, or eyes. Flu season generally runs from October to May, but timing can vary.

Common symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and sore throat, and is different from a common cold in that these symptoms usually come on suddenly.

Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself! You may experience mild symptoms from the flu shot—this is your body developing its response to the inactivated or weakened virus. When vaccinated people are exposed to the virus, their bodies can fight it off or reduce its impact, so they only experience mild symptoms. High dose flu shots are available for some people 65 and older.

High dose vaccines contain four times as much flu virus antigen than the standard flu shot. Your doctor will help you decide which flu shot will best support your needs.


Experts are concerned about COVID-19 variants and the flu circulating simultaneously. There is a chance that a person could get both viruses at the same time. If you have any symptoms, contact your doctor about getting a COVID-19 test. Flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, so testing can help identify which virus it is.

Vaccines substantially decrease the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 and help protect our communities. The more people who get vaccinated, the less likely it is that variants can spread. If you qualify for the COVID-19 booster shot, make plans to get that as soon as you can.

If you live in an area that has a high rate of the COVID-19, you should also wear your mask indoors and in public places. This is especially true if you are in a group that is more vulnerable to respiratory diseases. Until vaccination rates increase in the United States, wearing a mask is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19 variants regardless of vaccination status.


Syncytial Virus (or RSV) is a virus that can cause mild, cold-like symptoms. It usually spreads through droplets from coughs or sneezes, and it can survive on surfaces. Older adults, especially those with underlying heart or lung disease, and infants are most at risk of experiencing severe symptoms.

Common symptoms include runny nose, decrease in appetite, fever, cough, wheezing or whistling breath, and sneezing. These symptoms can lead to other serious conditions such as pneumonia, asthma flare-ups, COPD exacerbations, congestive heart failure, etc.

To protect yourself, make sure you and loved ones cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or elbows, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, avoid close contact with infected people, and clean potential contaminated/high touch surfaces (like counters, doorknobs, light switches, etc.). As respiratory viruses spread, wear your mask when you go out into public spaces and stay home if you are feeling sick. To further protect your lungs, remember to set boundaries with loved ones if they are feeling sick as well.