Health officials concerned about rise in flu, RSV cases – The Suffolk News-Herald

Health officials concerned about surge in flu, RSV cases

Published 5:48 p.m. Friday 25 November 2022

Virginia’s health community encourages residents who have not yet done so to get vaccinated against the flu, get or boost their vaccinations for COVID-19, and take personal health and safety precautions when we’re caught up in what may be a particularly intense flu and respiratory enter sickness period.

This year’s flu season is early, with signs that it could be worse than in recent years, Virginia Department of Health officials said in a recent news release.

There is also a rising number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can lead to serious illness and hospitalization in children and older adults.

If these trends continue, health officials both locally and across Virginia say it could strain health systems in some communities. Physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers in Virginia are already being inundated with a deluge of sick patients seeking care, filling hospital beds and, in many cases, requiring extended hospital stays.

Data from Virginia hospitals and public health surveillance information from the Virginia Department of Health suggests the Commonwealth is facing a particularly challenging flu and respiratory disease season this fall and winter. Visits to emergency departments and emergency clinics with RSV diagnoses have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly elevated.

Visits for flu-like illnesses are also increasing – according to the VDH, such visits in the week ending November 5 are at least four times higher than in the same week for each of the last four years.

In Virginia, compared to the previous week, we saw a 41 percent increase in influenza-like illnesses and an overall 18 percent increase in respiratory illnesses. Data from the Virginia Immunization Information System from July 1 to November 9, 2022 shows that influenza vaccine uptake among children under 12 years of age is lower this year compared to the same periods in the previous three years.

Larry Hill, Public Information Officer for the Virginia Department of Health’s Eastern Region Health Department, shared some common everyday techniques people can use to stay safe and healthy.

“The best defense is a flu shot,” Hill said. “Also, wash your hands, cover your sneeze or cough, and stay home if you’re sick.”

Likewise, on Nov. 13, the Western Tidewater Health District shared a Facebook post with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

Described as “a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms,” it notes that RSV “can be serious, particularly for infants and adults.”

Officials at the local Department of Health shared CDC tips like “clean and disinfect surfaces” and “avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.”

These illnesses occur even as COVID-19 remains a significant concern — the federal public health emergency over the coronavirus was recently extended, and Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 478 inpatients per day. The continued presence of COVID-19, coupled with the rapid spread of influenza and other respiratory illnesses, puts elderly Virginians, those with compromised immune systems or other medical conditions, and younger children at increased risk of medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu.

According to the VDH, the holiday season is just around the corner.

To protect yourself and your family from the flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses, the public health community recommends the following steps:

  • Make an appointment for a flu shot as soon as possible. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that “everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each season with rare exceptions.” Flu shots are available at physician’s offices, commercial pharmacies, local health districts, and community health clinics, among others. Find out where you can get the flu shot in your community here.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you haven’t already. Get a refresher if you have been vaccinated but it has been at least two months since your last dose. Bivalent booster doses are available for vaccinated individuals aged 5 years and older. The VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Find out where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot in your community by visiting or by calling (877) VAX-IN-VA or (877) 829-4682.
  • Parents of sick children are encouraged to keep them away from school and other activities to curb the spread of infection. Parents with sick children are also advised to consult a pediatrician or family doctor first, unless your child is in a medical emergency, in which case hospital treatment may be warranted. This approach helps ensure hospital beds and emergency rooms are open and available for patients with critical medical needs.
  • Adults who become ill are also encouraged to stay home to limit the risk of spreading the disease and to contact their doctor for advice on the appropriate course of treatment depending on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors allow.
  • Individuals with symptoms or those who test positive are advised to consult their doctor to determine the treatment option that is right for them. This is especially true for people at high risk. Since the treatment is often most effective when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, patients are advised not to delay visiting the doctor and beginning the prescribed treatment. It’s also important to remember that prescription antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are usually not appropriate or indicated for treating viral infections like the flu and RSV.
  • As a routine safety behavior, Virginians are encouraged to wash their hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, to avoid touching their face with unwashed hands, to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing to limit the time , children spend time in large groups with other contagious people whenever possible, and to get tested if they think they may have been exposed to a disease.

With the rise in respiratory illnesses and associated hospitalizations in Virginia, immunizations, basic health and safety precautions, and seeking appropriate medical care and counseling when you are sick are simple ways to help you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season.