The season for respiratory viruses is easing, but it isn’t over yet
Hospitalizations for the flu in the U.S. reached the highest level in a decade this holiday season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The spread of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, appears to be slowing, but flu and COVID-19 cases remain high as of early January, per the agency. Experts have called the convergence of the three circulating respiratory viruses this year a “tripledemic.”
With all these respiratory viruses circulating this year, you may be wondering what steps to take to help protect yourself. The good news is many of those steps are now commonplace.
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. You can get your flu vaccine and booster at the same time. No vaccines are yet available for RSV.
“It’s not too late to get your flu shot, and don’t forget your COVID-19 booster,” said Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health for UnitedHealthcare. “Staying current on your vaccinations is the best way to help prevent the spread of flu and COVID-19 and avoid missing out on activities you most want to attend.”
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.
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
The 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.