How many respiratory viruses are there?

February 6, 2024
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Types of respiratory viruses range from the common cold to more severe health concerns. Contracting a respiratory virus can significantly affect our daily health and interrupt our routines and lives. Therefore, understanding these viruses is crucial for approaching preventive strategies and seeking proper treatment if one is contracted. Our understanding of respiratory viruses can impact individual health and the health of those around us. There are over 200 viruses that may cause diseases in humans, and some impact the respiratory system more significantly than others. This blog post serves as a respiratory virus overview, exploring several common and lesser-known respiratory viruses.


Respiratory Viruses

Understanding respiratory viruses starts with the human respiratory system, which is what allows us to breathe. It is a group of organs and tissues that work together to help inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Breathing in through the nose and mouth, air travels through the upper and lower respiratory system. The upper respiratory system consists of the mouth, throat, nose, and voice box. The lower respiratory system, or tract, consists of the windpipe (trachea), airways (bronchi), and lungs.


Respiratory viruses affect the respiratory system, making an infected person feel stuffy when in the nose or nasal cavity or making breathing hard when in the lungs or airways. These viruses are typically contracted through the nose and mouth from microscopic droplets inhaled from an infected person nearby.


Common Respiratory Viruses



Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is one of many highly infectious common respiratory infections. Symptoms include high fever, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, and sore throat. The flu may evolve into severe complications like pneumonia. Colder months increase the likelihood of contracting the flu, often resulting in annual worldwide epidemics. Millions of people contract the flu every year. It can be dangerous for the elderly, very young children, and people who live with chronic health conditions. Flu vaccinations are available and promoted as a health strategy to combat influenza. In addition to vaccines, other preventive measures include vigilant hand washing or use of hand sanitizer and avoiding close contact with anyone infected or showing flu-like symptoms.


Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

RSV is most commonly associated with its impact on infants and young children, but it also affects people of all ages. It is a major cause of respiratory infections and can lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. RSV is a common cause of hospitalization for infants. It typically presents mild, cold-like symptoms in older children and adults. This virus is a significant concern in crowded environments like daycares because it spreads easily through direct contact and respiratory droplets.



Rhinoviruses are very common in humans and a primary cause of the common cold. Impacting people of all ages, rhinoviruses cause familiar cold-like symptoms like a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and cough. Although rhinoviruses are generally mild, their prevalence is a burden for many populations due to missed work, school, and the need for healthcare visits.


Less Common Respiratory Viruses



Adenoviruses are a group of common respiratory viral diseases that cause cold or flu-like infections. The impact of these viruses ranges from mild symptoms to more severe complications like pneumonia or bronchitis. In addition to being transmitted fast through contact or droplets, adenoviruses are known to survive on surfaces for extended periods, which is a significant difference from other respiratory viruses.



Parainfluenza, also known as human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs), significantly impacts children and infants, resulting in illnesses such as bronchitis, croup, or pneumonia. Symptoms may appear as a common cold with a runny nose and coughing. Parainfluenza can lead to more severe symptoms and complications if not treated properly.



Enteroviruses are a large group of viruses that cause various respiratory symptoms, including common cold-like symptoms to severe conditions like viral meningitis. Unlike the flu, which is more common in colder weather, enteroviruses are more common in summer and fall, spreading rapidly among children. The well-known enterovirus is the poliovirus that has been mostly abolished due to vaccination. Outside of mild cold symptoms, enteroviruses may also lead to the common childhood hand, foot, and mouth disease.



Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that have recently impacted public health worldwide. Traditionally, coronaviruses were associated with mild respiratory illnesses and symptoms similar to the common cold. However, several coronavirus outbreaks have significantly changed how healthcare professionals and the public understand and approach these viruses.


  • Acute Respiratory Cornoavirus (SARS-CoV) 2003
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) 2012
  • Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.


While all coronaviruses impact the respiratory system often in ways similar to other common respiratory illnesses, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a new awareness of how severe this group of viruses can be. It has shown that these viruses must be monitored and treated properly due to the potential for severe illness and complications to those infected and the general public.


Preventive Measures and Treatments

Prevention and treatment of respiratory viruses are essential for individual health and overall public health. Some prevention strategies include vaccinations, hygiene practices, and staying home when showing symptoms to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.


Hygiene Tips for Disease Prevention

Regular handwashing, using hand sanitizer, and keeping hands away from the face are all helpful measures to prevent the spread or contraction of respiratory illnesses. Proper etiquette, such as covering coughs and sneezes or voluntarily wearing a facemask when sick, can also help decrease the spread of illnesses.


Treatment Options

Antiviral medications are available for some respiratory viruses. Treatments are most effective when administered in the early stages of illness. Treating symptoms using over-the-counter medications like decongestants or fever reducers can help reduce discomfort. Seeing your healthcare provider promptly is the best way to understand your symptoms and find the best treatment.


Fast Lab

If you have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms, consider ruling out COVID-19. At Fast Lab, we offer everything you need for COVID-19 testing, specializing in the fastest PCR tests in the US. PCR tests analyze your upper respiratory specimen for SARS-CoV-2. It is the gold standard for COVID-19 tests, and we offer direct-to-home testing with efficient Uber delivery. Contact us today for quick, dependable results right from your home.

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