Patients are Already Flooding into Doctors’ Offices, Hospital Emergency Departments, and Pediatric ICUs During Early Days of Flu and Respiratory Illness Season; Taking Precautions such as Getting a Flu Shot, the COVID-19 Vaccine, and Practicing Basic Health and Safety Behaviors Helps Reduce the Risk of Illness
The Virginia healthcare community is encouraging Virginians who haven’t done so to get vaccinated against flu, get vaccinated or boosted against COVID-19, and to take personal prevention steps as we enter the flu and respiratory illness season. This year’s flu season is already showing early, concerning signs that it may be worse than in recent years. There are also increasing numbers of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases, which may cause serious illness and hospitalization in children and older adults. If these trends continue, this could strain healthcare systems in some communities.
Some Virginia doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers are already seeing very high volumes of patients with respiratory illnesses seeking care, filling hospital beds, and in many cases requiring longer hospital stays. Emergency department and urgent care clinic visits involving patient diagnoses of RSV have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly elevated. Visits for flu-like illness are also rising – for the week ending November 5, such visits are at least four times as high than in the same week for each of the past four years. Virginia Immunization Information System data from July 1-November 9, 2022 indicates that flu vaccine uptake in children under 12 years old is lower this year as compared to the same time period during the previous three years.
These conditions are occurring even as COVID-19 remains a significant concern – Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 486 hospital inpatients each day. The continued presence of COVID-19 combined with the rapid spread of flu and other respiratory illness poses a heightened risk of developing medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu among older Virginians, individuals with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions, and younger children.
The holiday season is just around the corner. To protect yourself and your family against flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses, the healthcare community recommends taking the following steps:
- Make an appointment to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that “everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women, should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.” Flu vaccines are available at many doctor’s offices, pharmacies, local health departments, and community health clinics, among other locations. Contact your healthcare provider, local health department or find out where you can get a flu vaccine in your community here.
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not done so already. Get boosted if you have been vaccinated but it has been at least 2 months since your last vaccine dose. Bivalent booster doses are available for vaccinated individuals five years and older. VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Find out where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster in your community by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) VAX-IN-VA or (877) 829-4682.
- Parents of sick children are encouraged to keep them home from school and other activities to help limit the spread of infection. Parents with sick children are also advised to initially contact a pediatrician or family physician for medical guidance unless your child is in medical distress, in which case seeking hospital care may be warranted. Taking this approach helps ensure that hospital beds and emergency departments are open and available to patients with critical medical needs.
- Adults who become ill are also encouraged to stay home to limit the risk of spreading illness and to contact their healthcare provider for evaluation, testing and/or guidance on the appropriate course of treatment depending on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors. There are some treatment options for both COVID19 and influenza; people are encouraged to seek care quickly and talk to their health care provider about the right treatment options for them.
- People are also encouraged to take simple but powerful prevention steps- wash their hands regularly, avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and limit the time children spend in large group settings with other contagious individuals when possible.
- Individuals with symptoms, or those who test positive, are encouraged to contact their healthcare providers to determine the treatment option that is right for them. This is especially true for high-risk individuals. Because treatment is often most effective when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, people are advised not to delay seeking medical advice and starting prescribed treatment. It is also important to remember that prescriptions such as antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are typically not appropriate or indicated for treating viral infections like flu and RSV.
Increases in respiratory illnesses and related hospitalizations are a good reminder to Virginians to get vaccinated, take simple prevention steps, and seek appropriate medical care and guidance if you become sick. These actions can help you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season.