Combatting respiratory illnesses this holiday season

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 10:44 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - As people get ready for Thursday’s big feast, many may plan to get together with friends and family and maybe bring along their favorite dish to the Thanksgiving table, but you’ll want to leave the germs at home.

Over the past couple of years, society has been taking more precautions, like masking up, to slow the spread of COVID-19. With that came fewer reports of respiratory illnesses, like the flu and RSV, but now those cases are rolling in.

“Similarly to what we’re seeing in the rest of the commonwealth, we’re definitely not immune to the very high volumes of cases of the flu and RSV,” Jordi Shelton, with the Central Shenandoah Health District, said.

According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, emergency room and urgent care visits involving RSV have quadrupled since early September.

“For the last few years, it really has been preventing COVID-19,” Shelton said. “Now we need to take a more layered approach to prevent all of these viral illnesses, especially as we’re getting closer to gathering with folks for the holidays.”

That means washing your hands, covering your cough, avoiding touching your face, and if you’re able, rolling up your sleeve.

“[Get] your Flu shot every year, staying up to date with your COVID vaccines and booster, and then a lot of the everyday preventative steps,” Elena Diskin, with the Virginia Department of Health, said. “Avoid contact with sick people or staying home yourself if you’re not feeling great.”

The CDC suggests anyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine, with very few exceptions. For flu, the CDC recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. The fever should be gone without the need to use a fever-reducing medicine.

“Ideally, the time to get vaccinated for the flu is in September and October, but it is not too late to go ahead and get your vaccines. If you haven’t done that you should do so,” Shelton said.

For RSV, the CDC reports symptoms usually appear within four to six days after getting infected. Symptoms of RSV infection usually include: Runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.

Some hospitals around the nation are overwhelmed with respiratory illness patients. Virginia hospitals still have space, but doctors say you should only go to the ER if it is an emergency.