This article was previously published on Atrium Health's Daily Dose
Protecting yourself during respiratory viral season starts with awareness. Atrium Health experts discuss the importance of getting vaccinated and practicing good health hygiene for your best protection.
The start, duration and severity of respiratory viral season can be a bit unpredictable every year, but there are things you can do to help prepare and protect yourself and your family.
Understanding this year's respiratory viral season
The CDC expects the 2023-2024 season to be similar to the 2022-2023 season in terms of the total number of hospitalizations from COVID-19, RSV and flu. As with the previous season, the total number of hospitalizations in 2023-2024 is expected to be higher than what we as a nation experienced prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As COVID-19 becomes one of the many respiratory viruses that impact us each year, we will continue to struggle with protecting our most vulnerable patients from not just COVID but also RSV, flu and other respiratory viruses that can cause severe disease," says Dr. Katie Passaretti, vice president and enterprise chief epidemiologist at Atrium Health.
And when it comes to children, flu is more dangerous than the common cold.
"Children commonly need medical care because of flu, especially children younger than five years old," says Dr. Lyn Nuse, senior director of pediatric primary care at Atrium Health Levine Children's. "We recommend that everyone six months and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year, ideally by the end of October. Vaccinating young children, their families and other caregivers can also help protect them from getting sick."
Protecting yourself against respiratory viruses
Anyone who has ever had a respiratory virus knows it's no fun. Fortunately, you can take several proactive steps to lessen the chances of contracting these and other viruses.
Follow these tips for avoiding germs:
- If you're sick, stay home. "If a fever persists for longer than 24 hours, contact your primary care provider or pediatrician. Your provider will know if you need to be tested for both flu and COVID-19 to be sure you or your child is not contagious," Nuse says.
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Don't touch your face or rub your eyes.
- Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. "Practice good etiquette by sneezing into your elbow, so that you're not spreading germs and exposing those around you," Passaretti says.
- Wipe down frequently used surfaces with disinfecting wipes.
- Get vaccinated for both flu and COVID-19 in preparation for the upcoming season.
Help boost your immune system by incorporating these daily habits:
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get a good night's rest.
- Fit in some exercise several times a week.
- Destress whenever possible.
Vaccines to Get
Giving more than one vaccine at a visit, like flu and COVID-19 vaccinations, is called coadministration. It is common medical practice and is safe. The idea is to get people up to date on all the vaccines they are due for at one visit. This can ensure that people get all of their vaccines, in case they are not able to return for additional vaccinations at a later time. Studies conducted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic indicate that it is safe to get both a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same visit.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October to give your body time to develop a response to the vaccine before the virus starts circulating in your community," says Passaretti. "We have both vaccines in our practices now and with one stop, you can be fully vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19 for the upcoming respiratory viral season."
Finding care if you get sick with a respiratory virus
If you have difficulty breathing or other life-threatening or serious symptoms, you should seek emergency care immediately. If you think you have a respiratory virus and the symptoms are mild, contact your primary care provider or schedule a video visit to let a provider assess your symptoms and determine if testing or an office visit is needed.
Visit MyAtriumHealth to find the most convenient location to get your flu vaccine.