Health officials concerned by rise in flu, RSV cases
Published 5:48 pm Friday, November 25, 2022
The Virginia healthcare community is encouraging local residents who haven’t done so to get vaccinated against the flu, get vaccinated or boosted against COVID-19, and to take personal health and safety precautions as we enter what could be a particularly intense 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, Virginia Department of Health officials said in a recent news release.
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, healthcare officials both locally and across Virginia say this could strain healthcare systems in some communities. Virginia doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers are already being inundated with a surge of sick patients seeking care, filling hospital beds, and in many cases requiring longer hospital stays.
Data from Virginia hospitals and public health surveillance information from the Virginia Department of Health suggest that the Commonwealth faces the prospect of a particularly challenging flu and respiratory disease season throughout this fall and winter. 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 higher than in the same week for each of the past four years, according to VDH.
In Virginia, we have seen a 41 percent increase in flu-like illness and an overall 18 percent increase in respiratory illness from the week prior. Virginia Immunization Information System data from July 1-November 9, 2022 indicates that flu vaccination uptake in children younger than 12 is lower this year as compared to the same time periods during the previous three years.
Virginia Department of Health Eastern Region Public Information Officer Larry Hill gave some general everyday techniques for people to stay safe and healthy.
“The best defense is a flu shot,” Hill said. “Also wash your hands, cover your sneeze or cough and stay home when sick.”
Likewise, the Western Tidewater Health District shared a Facebook post on Nov. 13 with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
Described as a “common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms,” it is noted that RSV’s “can be serious, especially for infants and adults.”
Local health department officials included tips from the CDC such as “clean & disinfect surfaces,” and “avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.”
These conditions are occurring even as COVID-19 remains a significant concern – the federal public health emergency regarding coronavirus was recently extended and Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 478 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, according to VDH.
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 shot as soon as possible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that “everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.” Flu shots are available at doctor’s offices, commercial pharmacies, local health districts, and community health clinics, among other locations. Find out where you can get a flu shot 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 two months since your last vaccine dose . Bivalent booster doses are available for vaccinated individuals 5 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 guidance on the appropriate course of treatment depending on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors.
- 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.
- As a routine safety behavior, Virginians are encouraged to wash their hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, to avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, to limit the time children spend in large group settings with other contagious individuals when possible, and to get tested if they believe they have been exposed to illness.
With respiratory illness and related hospitalizations on the rise in Virginia, getting vaccinated, taking basic health and safety steps, and seeking appropriate medical care and guidance if you become sick, are simple ways to help you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season.