As winter approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning of an increase in respiratory infections, especially in children.
Respiratory infections are expected to soar this winter after two years of declines that can be linked to the COVID-19 practices of social distancing, masking, and remote schooling that occurred in 2020 and 2021.
Earlier increases of certain respiratory infections have already been seen this year, according to the CDC. There are three viruses to be on alert for this winter: Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Influenza (“the flu”), and COVID. This has led to the term, the “Triple-demic.”
RSV is a virus that peaks in winter and affects people of all ages. In smaller children and infants, RSV leads to swelling of the small airways of the lungs, causing a condition called bronchiolitis. This viral infection can cause severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing and a fever. In adults, RSV is usually just a cold.
There is a medication available to prevent severe illness with RSV. This medication is an injection called Synagis. This injection is NOT a vaccine. It is a medication that consists of antibodies (cells that fight infection) that only attack the RSV virus. However, this option is only available for infants with certain conditions such as infants born prematurely (born extremely early before their expected delivery date), infants born with heart disease, or infants with severe lung disease.
There is no specific treatment for RSV bronchiolitis, but there is supportive care. These measures include ensuring that the sick child is nursing or drinking fluids, giving fever-reducing medications when needed, and, in more severe cases, getting oxygen in a hospital setting. The best way to prevent children from getting RSV is frequent handwashing for adults and children, especially around infants. If you have a premature baby, consult your doctor to determine if Synagis is necessary.
2) The Flu
Influenza virus (“the flu”) is another respiratory virus that peaks during winter. As with RSV, there has been an increase in cases earlier than is typically seen in the fall, largely due to communities returning to pre-pandemic practices. The best way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot.
The COVID virus is also known to rise in winter months as people spend more time indoors. In addition, a rise in COVID is expected because of new variations of the virus, and a decrease in social distancing and masking.
The best ways to prevent flu and COVID infections are:
- Getting vaccinated can help protect you and your family from severe illness from these infections and is the single best way to fight the flu and COVID. In addition to protecting yourself, getting vaccinated also protects people around you, including people who are more likely to become seriously ill, like babies and young children, older people, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about these vaccinations.
- Washing hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer (such as Purell).
- Staying home when sick.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
Let’s all do our part to keep our children, ourselves, and our communities healthy and safe this winter!