• Risk Factors for Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

    A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
    It is possible to develop a cold or influenza with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing a cold or influenza. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
    The vast majority of the population in any given area may get colds or influenza during the course of a year. The average rate for adults in the US is 3 or 4 infections per person per year. Children get even more.
    Risk factors include:

    Smoking

    Smoking greatly increases the frequency of colds in adults. Smokers are also at a higher risk for complications from colds and the flu.

    Poor Hygiene

    Colds and influenza are passed through person-to-person contact, so people who do not wash their hands are at higher risk of spreading and contracting colds or influenza. Also, touching your nose, mouth, and eyes with contaminated fingers can spread germs to yourself.

    Crowded Populations

    People in crowded living conditions are at an increased risk, as well.

    Medical Conditions

    People who have certain medical conditions are at a higher risk for complications. Examples include:
    • People who are sick
    • People who have cardiac, respiratory, or kidney disease
    • People who have suppressed immune systems
    • People with allergies or asthma
    • Women who are pregnant

    Age

    Children and the elderly are at increased risk for complications.

    Disability

    People with physical or mental disabilities may have trouble practicing preventive measures, and they may not be able to easily communicate their symptoms. These issues place them at an increased risk for getting sick and for complications.

    Stress and Other Mental Health Factors

    You may be at an increased risk for contracting a cold if you are under a lot of stress, or if you feel anxious or depressed.

    References

    Common cold. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/common-cold. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 11, 2015.

    Influenza. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/respiratory-viruses/influenza. Updated April 2014. Accessed August 11, 2015.

    Influenza in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 17, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2015.

    Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 8, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2015.

    3/5/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Falagas ME, Karamanidou C, Kastoris AC, Karlis G, Rafailidis PI. Psychosocial factors and susceptibility to or outcome of acute respiratory tract infections. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2010;14(2):141-148.

    2/3/2015 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Rantala A, Jaakkola JJ, Jaakkola MS. Respiratory infections in adults with atopic disease and IgE antibodies to common aeroallergens. PLoS One. 2013;8(7):e68582.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
    • Review Date: 08/2015
    • Update Date: 02/03/2015
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