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Understanding the Viruses Affecting the Respiratory System

by | Nov 30, 2021 | Uncategorized

With the ongoing pandemic, it is high time to learn more about the respiratory system, how it works, and how to strengthen it to prevent diseases. As a pharmacy professional, it is important to know more about these things to help you determine the tests that need to be performed as soon as the patient is assessed. The course will also assist you in identifying some of the most common treatments that health care professionals can resort to when dealing with a patient with a respiratory disease. As part of the team, you may use this knowledge to refer the patient to seek appropriate medical attention.


Respiratory Viruses and Diseases

Aside from being one of the fastest in terms of transmission, respiratory viruses also have a major impact when it comes to mortality rates in different parts of the world. There are different types of respiratory viruses that are present in most continents, namely the influenza virus, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza viruses, coronaviruses, adenoviruses, and bocaviruses. They come in different strains as well (Boncristiani et al., 2009).



Also known as the flu, the influenza virus rapidly evolves over time (Blut & Untergruppe, Bewertung Blutassoziierter Krankheitserreger, 2009). Most types of flu virus infections resolve on their own. However, if they affect people who have underdeveloped or weak immune systems, these people may develop complications with or without proper treatment (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2020).

This type of virus travels through tiny droplets from someone who has been recently infected. It can infect other people when an infected person sneezes, talks, or coughs. Though less often, another way that the flu spreads is through touching of objects that were used or touched by a person infected with the virus.


Human Metapneumovirus

This is one of the most common causes of acute respiratory illnesses in both children and adults. It can cause upper and lower respiratory illnesses. Young children and people with compromised immune systems are considered at higher risk of contracting more severe clinical manifestations when infected with this virus. Its average incubation period lasts from three to six days from the time the person was infected (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2019).



Aside from the respiratory system, this type of virus affects the nervous system, urinary tract, intestines, and linings of the eyes. Adenovirus mostly affects children below 11 years old. Like most of the virus types listed in this course, the infection from this virus resolves by itself. The exceptions are people with weak or underdeveloped immune systems.

There are various means that this virus can spread. The most common is through droplet transmission, which happens when an infected person is sneezing and coughing. If a person gets exposed to this, they may develop an infection. The same may happen if they touch a contaminated object and get their hand in contact with their mouth, nose, or eyes. If you happen to eat food prepared by an infected person who did not properly sanitize beforehand, you may also get infected.



This is considered as an umbrella term for the viruses that cause respiratory conditions that affect different people across the world. They were named such because of their crown-like (Latin term corona) appearance. Seasonal coronaviruses also usually cause the common cold but do not cause SARS-CoV-2(COVID-19).

There are hundreds of coronavirus variants that exist. However, there are less than nine that affect humans. Among these types, three bring severe symptoms while the remaining ones seem to cause the clinical manifestations of a common cold.

  • Common Human Coronaviruses. These are the types that usually cause the common cold. They usually present with mild to moderate types of respiratory symptoms. Even if they are not aware of it, most people will contract at least one of the common coronavirus types. Unless they have a problem with their immune system, the infection will resolve by itself. These virus subtypes include HKU1, OC43, NL63, and 229E (Vandergriendt, 2020).
  • MERS-CoV. This virus type causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The infection originated from people who were in contact with infected camels. For people who have the infection, they can spread the virus when they are in close proximity with other people, such as those providing care to the infected person or those living with them.
  • SARS-CoV-1. This is also known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus. According to experts, this type of virus may have originated from bats. Because of the instability of this virus type, it was mostly contained after affecting more than 8,000 people across different countries. The rest of the cases that emerged after that were mostly because of laboratory-related accidents.
  • SARS-CoV-2. This virus type is what causes the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This is similar to SARS-CoV-1, but it comes in a more stable form. Therefore, it can withstand most of the external elements like weather and temperature changes. Like other respiratory viruses, it can be transmitted through droplets. Therefore, when the infected person coughs, talks, or sneezes, they can spread the virus through the air. In this case, the virus can be transmitted to other people who are within one-meter radius from the infected person. The virus can infect them through their nose, eyes, and mouth (World Health Organization, 2020).



This is a type of respiratory virus that usually affects children. The infected person typically presents with diarrhea and lower respiratory tract infection. Most of the signs and symptoms that this virus brings are nonspecific. Therefore, it is somewhat tricky to determine if the person is infected with this virus unless they undergo laboratory examination (Davis, 2020). In this regard, you may assist them with this concern by recommending them to undergo the specific tests to determine the virus that may have caused the infection. After that, you may recommend them to the appropriate health care professional for further diagnosis and treatment.


Signs and Symptoms

Respiratory illnesses have a lot in common when it comes to signs and symptoms. This makes it tricky to differentiate one virus from another if the health care providers will not order for laboratory tests.


Shortness of Breath

Difficulty in breathing can sometimes manifest in patients who are infected with a respiratory virus. If the patient is at rest and still encounters this symptom, consulting a specialist is advisable.



In general, a cough should clear up about two weeks after its onset. If not and there is no other apparent cause for it, the patient should see their healthcare provider as soon as possible. This will help rule out other conditions that may be causing persistent coughing.


Mucus Production

The body naturally produces mucus to trap dirt and other foreign particles. When the patient has an infection, the rate of mucus production increases. It leads to other symptoms like nasal congestion and productive cough. In some cases, blood also accompanies the mucus that the patient coughs up (Ollila, 2018).



Fever is an indication that the body is battling an infection. Because the infection is generally systemic, the patient may also experience generalized body pain and malaise.


Common Treatments Available

Since viral respiratory infections largely resolve on their own, the main goal of the treatment for most respiratory viruses is to improve the quality of life and to help the patient return to their life before the illness struck them. Treatment and management focus more on temporary environmental modifications to help alleviate symptoms. This is applicable until the patient reaches full recovery (Gundersen Health System, 2021).


Breathing Exercises

For breathing exercises to work properly, the patient should be placed in a comfortable semi-Fowler’s position. The head of the bed should be raised to a 15-45° angle. This will optimize the length of the diaphragm and enable it to assist the lungs during respiration. When in standing position, the patient may slightly bend their torsos forward to minimize difficulty in breathing. The health care provider should also teach the patient about pursed lip breathing and proper inhalation and exhalation (University of Michigan Health, 2021). In pursed lip breathing, the patient is instructed to inhale through the nose with their mouth closed, and exhale through puckered lips, as if to whistle or blow out a candle.


Pharmacological Treatment

In general, viral infections are treated depending on their symptoms. The following are some of the most common types of drugs used for patients with respiratory illnesses: antivirals, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, epinephrine, antihistamines, and pulmonary surfactants (Pruit, 2007).



Dealing with respiratory viruses can be a bit tricky because of their similarities. However, this should not be a hindrance in providing top-quality care for the patients. With enough knowledge on the type of viruses, you can determine the appropriate preventive measures and treatment protocols based on clinical and laboratory findings. As a pharmacy professional, knowledge about the existing respiratory infections and their corresponding treatment can help you in customizing each patient’s treatment plan. In turn, this will make it easier for the patient to receive the best care possible..


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