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Preventing respiratory tract infections

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Stopping the spread of infection

If you develop a respiratory tract infection, it is important to take steps to prevent spreading the infection to other people. These steps are outlined below.

  • Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly after touching your nose or mouth, and before handling food.
  • Sneezing and coughing into tissues. This will help prevent the virus-containing droplets from your nose and mouth entering the air where they can infect others. Throw away used tissues immediately before washing your hands.
  • Do not share cups or kitchen utensils with others. Use your own cup, plates and cutlery.


There are currently three vaccines available 0800 022 4 332 - two for pneumonia and one for the flu - that can provide protection against these two respiratory tract infections.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV)

All children who are under two should routinely receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) as part of their childhood immunisation schedule.

A first dose of PCV is usually given when a child is between two to four months' old, with a second dose given two months later.

The PCV is entirely safe, although about one in 10 children will experience some redness and swelling at the site of the injection and a mild fever. However, these symptoms will pass quickly.

Speak to your GP or health visitor if you are not sure whether your child has received their PCV.

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV)

If you are in one of the high-risk groups for developing a pneumococcal infection - for example, if you have a weakened immune system - your GP surgery should contact you to arrange a vaccination. If this is not the case, you should contact your GP to arrange an appointment.

Healthy adults usually require only one dose of PPV. However, those with weakened immune systems, or spleen disorders, may require additional booster doses. Your GP will be able to advise you about this.

After you have had your PPV, you may experience some pain and inflammation at the site of the injection. This should only last for between one to three days. Less commonly, some people report the symptoms of a mild fever. Again, this should pass quickly.

The flu

Vaccination against the flu is recommended for people who are 65 or over, or for those with:

  • A serious heart problem, such as heart failure,
    serious asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Long-term kidney, or liver, disease,
  • A weakened immune system due to an illness, such as HIV or AIDS, or as a result of treatment, such as chemotherapy.

Flu vaccinations should be given by injection in the autumn (October or early November).

Contact your local GP surgery if you think that you should have a flu vaccination.

Quit smoking

Smoking damages your lungs. This means that they can become infected more easily.

If you smoke, stopping is the best thing that you can do to prevent developing respiratory tract infections.

To help you quit smoking, call the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0800 022 4 332 for advice and support. For more information, you can visit the NHS Smokefree website.

Your GP or pharmacist can also provide you with help and advice about quitting smoking.

Immune system
The immune system is the body's defence system, which helps protect it from disease, bacteria and viruses.
Lungs are a pair of organs in the chest that control breathing. They remove carbon dioxide from the blood and replace it with oxygen.
Sneezing is an involuntary expulsion of air and bacteria from the nose and mouth.
Medical Review: July 07, 2009

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