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Respiratory Illnesses

Fall typically marks the start of respiratory illness season. Symptoms of viral respiratory illnesses such as flu and RSV are similar to the symptoms of COVID-19. When in doubt, a phone call to the child’s pediatrician or primary care provider will help determine next steps regarding testing or treatment.

In a typical year, Children’s of Alabama physicians treat more than 70,000 ill and injured patients in its Emergency Department, an average of more than 200 a day. With that kind of patient volume, visiting an emergency room can be counter-productive if you have a non-urgent concern. Visiting an ED with a viral illness like flu or COVID-19 also exposes children with underlying conditions who can’t fight infection as well as others. The Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department is not a public COVID-19 testing site. If your child needs a test, contact your pediatrician or primary care provider or visit the Alabama Department of Public Health website to find a local testing site.

However, children who are laboring to breathe, have concerns for dehydration such as a low urine output or children who are sick and also have a pre-existing medical condition – like asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes or cancer – should be treated in an ED immediately.

Is It a Cold, the Flu, or COVID-19?
All these illnesses are caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract, but it can be hard to tell them apart.

COVID-19, Allergies, Cold or Flu? (PDF)

Flu and COVID FAQs (PDF)

Flu and COVID FAQs Spanish (PDF)

When to Visit the Doctor or Emergency Department (PDF)



Influenza (also known as the flu) is caused by a virus that spreads easily from person to person. 

Flu Vaccine
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Because children younger than 6 months cannot receive the flu vaccine, it is important for everyone who is of age to receive the flu vaccine, especially caregivers and parents of young children. While the shot does not cover all strains of the flu, it can shorten or cause the case to be less severe even if someone does get the illness.

Kids Health Flu Center
Learn all about protecting your family from the flu and what to do if your child gets flu-like symptoms.

Flu Tip Sheet

Flu Sheet (PDF)

Flu Sheet Spanish (PDF)

Flu FAQs (Blog Article)


Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a virus that causes respiratory infections, and is one of the most common diseases of early childhood.

RSV is spread by direct or close contact with an infected individual through respiratory secretions when someone coughs or sneezes, or when someone comes in contact with contaminated surfaces.

Additional RSV Information 


COVID-19 continues to be a concern for children and adults. To slow the spread of this highly transmissible virus, experts recommend vaccination for everyone 6 months and up, frequent hand washing, masking (especially when indoors) and social distancing.

Children’s of Alabama COVID-19 Resources

COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs

Children’s of Alabama (hospital) is not a public vaccination site. Children’s of Alabama’s Birmingham area pediatric practices are offering the Pfizer vaccine exclusively to their eligible patients. To learn more, visit www.childrensal.org/practices or www.childrensal.org/covid-19-vaccine-resources. Eligible individuals may also go to any UAB vaccination site to receive the vaccine. Appointments are not required. For additional information visit www.uabmedicinevaccine.org.