You’ve probably heard the warnings of a “tripledemic” this winter.
With flu cases already trending above previous years’ totals, and cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) rising rapidly among children and the elderly, it’s especially important to take extra precautions to stay safe this fall and winter. You may be weary of messages to “get vaccinated,” but they’re being repeated for good reasons.
Flu and RSV cases were down the last two years because travel was limited, schools were closed, and people stayed home, wore masks and socially distanced from others. When students were learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, flu and RSV had trouble transmitting. Viruses thrive in populations that have never experienced them or when an individual’s immunity wanes. With conditions set for a perfect storm, emergency departments, like the one at Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center, are experiencing a surge of patients and cause for concern about the coming months.
Flu, RSV, and SARs CoV2, which causes COVID-19 disease, are all viruses. High-risk groups for all three viruses include, but aren’t limited to, adults over 65, very young children and those with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease, neurologic issues, weakened immune systems and obesity. Women who are pregnant may also be at risk.
Flu vaccines are available now, so get yours, sooner rather than later. It takes two weeks for antibodies to be effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months and older receive a flu vaccine each year, with rare exceptions. Vaccination is particularly important during pregnancy and for those at higher risk of serious complications such as pneumonia and even death. Flu can also cause problems that may result in inflammation of the heart, brain, muscle tissues, and multi-organ failure.
You should also receive the latest COVID-19 omicron-specific booster, even if you had the original series; you can get this at the same time as your flu shot.
There’s no vaccine for RSV, which typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms. RSV can inflame the small airways of the lungs or cause pneumonia — which is a lung infection — in children younger than 1 year old.
The CDC says that each year in the United States, an estimated 58,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized due to RSV infection. Many people don’t realize that, in addition, approximately 177,000 older adults are hospitalized annually with RSV and 14,000 of them die — which highlights the importance of prevention.
You’ve heard this before, but truthfully, these are the best ways to protect yourself from serious illness this fall:
In addition, experts agree that getting a flu shot and COVID-19 booster will help keep you from being hospitalized for severe illness and will make more hospital beds available for those who really need them.
Jean Murray is the system director of infection prevention and control at Luminis Health. She has over 26 years of experience in infection control, outbreak surveillance and epidemiology.
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