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6 Ways to Prevent Respiratory Illness this Winter

This time of year, respiratory illnesses pose a significant threat to families and communities nationwide. The spike in hospital admissions for COVID-19, flu, and RSV in Milwaukee, particularly impacting infants and seniors, emphasizes the urgency of preventative measures.

Across the country, tens of thousands of patients have been admitted each week for respiratory illnesses. Between November 1, 2023, and January 18, 2024, 826 people in Milwaukee County were hospitalized for flu, RSV, or COVID-19.

Fortunately, there are practical strategies to slow or prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. Below we will explore these practices to safeguard ourselves, our families, and our community. 


1. Staying up to date with Vaccinations

Staying current on recommended vaccinations is vital to reducing infection risks and severe illnesses.

Vaccines for respiratory viruses, such as flu, RSV, and COVID-19 play a crucial role. Following the recommended vaccination schedule for all ages is vital for community health.





2. Promoting Personal Hygiene

Practicing good personal hygiene is crucial in slowing the spread of any illness. Examples include:

  • Regularly washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizers with 60% alcohol when soap and water are not available.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with a tissue or elbow when coughing or sneezing.
  • Staying home when sick reduces germ spread, speeds up recovery, and prevents worsening symptoms.




3. Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle strengthens the immune system and lowers the risk of respiratory viruses. Key practices include:

  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity to improve overall fitness.
  • Getting sufficient sleep to support a healthy immune system.
  • Avoiding smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, which can harm the respiratory system





4. Practicing Respiratory Etiquette

Being mindful of your actions while sick is significant in slowing virus spread.

Practicing respiratory etiquette prevents the spread of respiratory droplets. Helpful actions include:

  • Using a tissue to cover the mouth
  • Disposing of used tissues promptly
  • Avoiding close contact with individuals experiencing respiratory symptoms.



5. Maintaining Clean Environments

Keeping surroundings clean is crucial in preventing respiratory viruses. Practices include:

  • Regularly cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and countertops to minimize the spread of respiratory droplets.
  • Avoid close contact with sick individuals and encourage proper steps for safety.






6. Ensuring Proper Ventilation

Clean air reduces the risks of respiratory viruses. Follow these best practices to help clear out potential virus particles in your space:

  • Open windows and doors (when possible) to let fresh air in.
  • Use fans to circulate air inside your space.
  • If your space has an HVAC system, switch the blower to “ON” vs “AUTO” for continuous airflow.
  • Stay updated on filter changes.




Preventing respiratory infections is important for maintaining the health of the community.

We can significantly reduce the risk of respiratory infections by adopting good personal hygiene, staying vaccinated, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing respiratory etiquette, and keeping environments clean. Let’s all take responsibility for our health and community well-being. Together, we can create a safer and healthier future!

For more information on eligibility for free vaccinations and MHD clinic locations and hours, visit milwaukee.gov/VaxClinics, or check with your healthcare provider.

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