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Respiratory Illnesses on the Rise

Tips for Avoiding Serious Illness

By Kristen Newsom, MD
Holden Family Practice/Chief of Adult Medicine

This fall, America is dealing with an unprecedented surge of dangerous respiratory viruses including the flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19.

Fortunately, for most people, cases of the flu, COVID-19 or RSV are usually mild and can be treated at home. However, when infection rates are higher than usual, emergency rooms can be overwhelmed with cases that need more intensive treatment. RSV, a common seasonal infection in children, is especially worrisome because there is presently no vaccine available for it. RSV can cause severe illness and even death in infants, older adults, and those with heart and lung disease or anyone with a weakened immune system.

This year, cases of the flu and RSV started rising earlier than usual in many areas of the country, which has raised concerns that severe illness from these two respiratory diseases will be more widespread. COVID-19 cases are also expected to rise this winter with more evasive variants and subvariants leading to a rise in infections and hospitalizations.

Taking some simple steps can help prevent the spread of contagious respiratory illnesses like RSV, the flu and COVID-19. If you have cold-like symptoms, be sure to:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve (not your hands)
  • Stay home from work or school if you’re sick. If you can’t stay home wear a mask
  • During this virus spike, avoid crowded spaces and/or wear a mask
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices
  • Contact your healthcare provider if symptoms worsen
  • Call 911 or visit the nearest Emergency Department if you’re experiencing any of these emergency symptoms, including difficulty breathing, chest pain, or seizures.

This year’s surge in respiratory illnesses makes it more important than ever to be up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations. Even though the vaccines against COVID-19 and the flu don’t totally prevent infection, they are proven to be highly effective at protecting you from serious illness, preventing hospitalization, and could even save your life.

Reliant patients can schedule an appointment for the flu vaccine in MyChart or by contacting your primary care provider’s office.  Flu and COVID vaccines are also available at local pharmacies. The following CDC web pages provide the latest up-to-date information on flu vaccines and COVID-19 boosters. Please take advantage of these important ways to protect your health!

And if you do start feeling sick, remember that Reliant primary care patients age 4+ can be treated from the comfort of home with our Virtual Care Team. Appointments are available from 7am-11pm/7 days a week through MyChart. The team can see patients who are suffering from COVID-19, flu or RSV symptoms.

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