‘Tis the season: Take steps to protect from respiratory illnesses

by Kate Evans

A triple onslaught of respiratory illnesses-COVID-19, seasonal influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a concern again as people start moving indoors as the weather gets cooler and the holidays move closer.

Morgan County and Washington County are currently at a low level for COVID-19 infection.

Health officials urge everyone to get their annual seasonal influenza vaccine and an updated COVID-19 vaccine now to protect themselves and their family. These shots can be given at the same time.

Nationwide, deaths and hospitalizations have been increasing from COVID.

The RSV vaccine is recommended for adults age 60 and up and women who are 32-36 weeks pregnant to protect their babies from severe RSV.

Pneumonia vaccines are also recommended for children and adults of all ages. Children and people 65 years of age and older are most susceptible to pneumonia.

Other recommendations

A 2023-2024 updated COVID-19 shot-Moderna, Pfizer-Biotech or Novavax- is recommended for most people ages 5 years and older to be up to date. Those 6 months through 4 years of age need multiple shots. People who are moderately to severely immunocompromised may need additional shots for updated protection.

The updated COVID vaccine that was recently released targets the IBB Omicron lineage and protects against newer COVID sub-variants.

To be eligible, patients must have had their last COVID booster at least 8 weeks ago.

Health officials are urging everyone six months and older to get their annual seasonal influenza vaccine as soon as possible, especially if they are at high risk for serious flu-related complications.

A high-dose influenza vaccine is recommended for those age 65 and older due to their lower immunity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends a monoclonal antibody product for all infants younger than 8 months who are born during or are entering their first RSV season, as well as some older babies.

Flu, pneumonia, COVID-19 and RSV vaccines are available locally.  Call a local pharmacy, family physician office and health departments for more information.

Area illness

River Bend Family Medicine in Hancock said they have not had any cases of seasonal influenza or RSV yet but they have had some cases of COVID-19.

West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia are currently experiencing minimal  influenza-like illness (ILI) activity as is most of the United States. However, influenza-like illness levels are high in New York City and Washington DC. ILI is respiratory illness that includes fever and a cough or sore throat.

Flu, COVID vaccines advised

River Bend Family Medicine Physician Dr. Matthew Hahn advised people to get their updated COVID vaccine and flu shots. Hahn said that there’s the risk of getting long COVID and always the risk of the virus mutating with not enough people being vaccinated against COVID.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to protect against severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.  Vaccines also reduce the risk of long COVID.

Flu vaccine

Getting a flu vaccine prevents flu-related complications, missed work and school days and many flu-related hospitalizations and deaths each year.

It takes around two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection from the flu.

Flu season can begin as early as October and can last as late as May. Typically flu season peaks between December and March each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October before flu season begins.

Flu symptoms, complications

Flu symptoms are fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle or body aches, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

Influenza can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections.  Complications can require hospitalization and become life-threatening or fatal. Influenza can also worsen chronic medical conditions such as asthma or congestive heart disease.

At high risk

Individuals at high risk of developing flu complications include children under age 5, especially those under age 2, adults over 50 years old, especially those 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and nursing home and long-term care facility residents.

Others at high risk include those with asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disorders and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems.

Seasonal influenza vaccination is very important for those at high risk of flu-related complications, for caretakers and family members of those individuals and health care personnel.

 RSV symptoms

Symptoms of RSV infection include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing.

Individuals are generally infected with RSV as an infant or toddler, said CDC officials.  People of any age can be infected.

RSV is the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis in children younger than one year old, according to the CDC. Some older adults and infants younger than six months may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated.

COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 infection include fever or chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache,  new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe illness and may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

At-home COVID tests

Every United States household can order four free at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests online as of September 25.  If interested, go to the website link or call 1-800-232-0233 to order.

Bridge Access program   

Most people can get free COVID-19 vaccines through their health insurance, but there are providers participating in the Bridge Access Program that provide no-cost COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured or under-insured adults. For more information, visit the website