7 Remarkably Common Viral Infections Explained

A Look at the Common Cold, Influenza, Croup, and More

Millions of Americans get sick with viral infections every year. These viruses can cause a wide range of symptoms and result in everything from the common cold to AIDS. Here we will discuss some of the most common viral infections.


Common Cold

Sick woman laying in bed under blanket

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

One of the most common viral infections in the world, the common cold, can be caused by many different viruses. Most often, the cold is caused by an adenovirus, coronavirus or rhinovirus. Symptoms of the common colds are typically mild and last between a week and 10 days.

Most adults get two to four colds a year, while children may get several more.

Use common prevention measures to reduce your chances of getting a cold, such as washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer when you don't have access to soap and water, and avoiding others who are sick.


Influenza (The Flu)

Sick woman in bed

South_agency / E+ / Getty Images

Influenza is the virus that causes the seasonal flu. There are numerous strains of influenza that can cause flu symptoms and the virus mutates from year to year. Although the flu isn't serious for everyone, hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are hospitalized every year.

Worldwide, it is estimated that between 250,000 and half a million people die from the flu each year.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a yearly flu vaccine. Hundreds of studies have proven that the vaccine is both safe and effective. We have many resources available to help you understand more about the flu vaccine. If you aren't sure if it is right for you and your family, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider.



Woman coughing

BSIP / UIG / Getty Images

Bronchitis may be caused by a bacteria, virus, or even chemicals, but the viral version is the most common. It can cause a cough that lasts for weeks and is a common complication of both the common cold and the flu.

If you are concerned that you might have bronchitis, contact your health care provider. Treatment will depend on your symptoms and the type of bronchitis that you have.


Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)

Woman suffering from abdominal pain. France

BSIP / UIG / Getty Images

Gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, is a very common viral infection. This unpleasant illness causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, and is highly contagious.

Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is different from influenza (seasonal flu). Gastroenteritis may be caused by viruses such as rotavirus and norovirus, among others.


Some Ear Infections

Doctor looking in a child's ear

sdominick / E+ / Getty Images

It used to be that all ear infections were treated with antibiotics because it was believed that most were caused by bacteria. More evidence has shown that middle ear infections are often viral and will resolve on their own without antibiotics.

Ear infections are far more common in children than they are in adults. Treatment usually depends on how much pain the infection is causing and other symptoms a person is experiencing.



coughing child

DesignPics / Don Hammond / Getty Images

Croup can be caused by many different viruses. It occurs almost exclusively in young children but can be very scary for both the child that gets it and their parents. Croup is characterized by a cough that sounds like a seal barking. Some children may also experience stridor, which is a whistling sound made when the child is inhaling.

Croup can often be treated at home by breathing in steamy or cold air.

If the cough or stridor is not relieved by home treatment, a visit to the doctor or emergency room (depending on severity and time of day) may be necessary.



Newborn baby crying

Charles Gullung / Cultura RM / Getty Images

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a viral infection that can be life-threatening for premature babies up to the age of 2 but causes typical cold symptoms in older children and adults.

RSV creates a lot of mucus and it may be very difficult for very young children to breathe when this occurs. Many babies who were premature and get RSV during the first two years of life need to be hospitalized. Synagis shots are available for premature babies who are at high risk for RSV to cut down on their chances of getting it.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (flu). Burden of influenza.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (flu). What you need to know for 2019-20.

  4. Kinkade, S, et al. Acute bronchitis. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Oct 1;94(7):560-565.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic prescribing and use in doctors' offices. Ear infection.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory syncytial virus infection (RSV).