Help protect yourself from the 3 most common respiratory viruses
Health experts are concerned about the possibility of another severe respiratory virus season with flu, COVID-19 and RSV on the rise nationwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), respiratory illnesses across much of the country are elevated or increasing, including related emergency room visits and hospitalizations. This is similar to an occurrence in 2022, when the U.S. saw an early and severe surge of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, that was followed by a spike of flu and COVID-19.
Fortunately, the steps you can take to protect yourself are now commonplace and easily accessible.
Taking steps to help avoid COVID-19, flu and RSV
Vaccines are the best protection against both COVID-19 and flu, according to the CDC. Yet despite increasing cases of all three viruses, vaccines nationwide remain low for children and adults. You can get your flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster at the same time.
For the first time ever, new vaccines are being offered to protect against RSV in adults 60 and up. The CDC also approved a monoclonal antibody treatment, called nirsevimab, trade name Beyfortus, to help protect infants as they enter their first RSV season. This treatment is available for infants up to 8 months and for high-risk children through 19 months.
“Staying current on your vaccinations is the best way to help prevent the spread of flu, COVID-19 and RSV to avoid missing out on activities you most want to attend,” said Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health for UnitedHealthcare.
Additional steps to help prevent the spread of RSV are like those for other respiratory viruses. RSV spreads when virus droplets get into your eyes, nose or mouth — either from a nearby cough or sneeze or when you touch a surface that has the virus on it and then touch your face before washing your hands.
Those infected with RSV are typically contagious for about three to eight days. People who are most at risk for severe disease include older adults and people of all ages who have compromised or weakened immune systems.
According to the CDC, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including:
- premature infants
- children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions
- children with weakened immune systems
- children with neuromuscular disorders
If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before any interaction.
You can help prevent the spread of the flu and RSV by:
- washing your hands often
- frequently cleaning surfaces and covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue
- avoiding close contact with those who are sick or others if you are experiencing cold-like symptoms
In addition, you can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by improving ventilation and getting tested as needed.
All three viruses — COVID-19, flu and RSV — can lead to serious health risks for those who are immunocompromised and elderly, so if you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to stay home until you are well.
You also may help avoid respiratory illnesses by eating healthier, getting adequate sleep and managing your stress levels. Masking, especially in public spaces or crowds, may also help mitigate the spread of respiratory illness.