Looking forward to gathering with family and friends for football, hockey and holiday parties? Now is a great time to protect against the respiratory illnesses that could wreak havoc on your plans.
The lessons learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are lifelong lessons for many fall and winter illnesses — colds, influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, (RSV), a serious illness for young children.
Stay home from work, school or day care when sick.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating or touching your nose and eyes.
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or upper shirt sleeve/elbow (not your hands).
Wear a mask when it’s appropriate, especially in indoor public transportation settings and health care settings.
Get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19 when you can.
Avoid crowds and indoor crowded places.
Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices.
What are the similarities and differences among these seasonal viruses and how may they be treated?
All these viruses cause similar symptoms, and it is not really possible to know which one you might have based on symptoms alone. However, the typical symptoms can vary a little. For all of them, stay home until you are fever-free and feeling better!
The common cold is often caused by a rhinovirus. A cold may start with a runny nose, mild nasal congestion or a low-grade fever and tends to last 5-10 days. There is no cure, but symptomatic care includes pain-relieving medications and fluids. Cough suppressants and cough syrups are not recommended for children under 3 years, but honey may be given as a cough suppressant for children over 1 year of age.
RSV is characterized by a strong cough that may come in fits and can cause wheezing or chest tightness. RSV typically lasts 7-10 days. While it can make anyone feel under the weather, it is especially dangerous for premature infants, babies less than 6 months of age, adults over 65 and anyone with underlying problems affecting the heart, lungs or immune system. Any child who seems to have difficulty breathing should be evaluated in an emergency department. Learn more about RSV.
Influenza (seasonal flu) is most often experienced as a severe cold. Patients may have high fevers, chills, body aches, headaches and severe coughs. Flu symptoms can last for 7-10 days and gradually improve. Because the flu can cause serious illness, and even death, everyone 6 months and older is urged to get vaccinated.
COVID-19 is now classified with the seasonal viral illnesses, and we hope it will settle into only one season! Some people will not show symptoms at all, while others may exhibit the following: a cough, fever, loss of taste or smell and/or profound tiredness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone who is eligible get the new updated booster, especially those with a weakened immune system. The updated boosters are called “bivalent” because they protect against both the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5. If you test positive and are at high risk of getting very sick due to age or chronic illnesses, contact your primary care physician or visit a Convenient Care Clinic to seek treatment.
Is it safe to receive the COVID-19 and flu vaccine at the same time?
Yes! According to the CDC, 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. If you are due for both vaccinations, it may be more convenient than scheduling separate vaccination visits. As long as the vaccines are administered at least one inch apart, you may receive them in the same arm, or you may choose to receive the vaccines in different arms. The high-dose (Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent) or adjuvanted flu vaccine (Fluad Quadrivalent) may be more likely to cause side effects compared to standard-dose flu vaccines. You may want to get these high-dose flu vaccines in a different arm than the arm receiving a COVID-19 vaccine to reduce side effects in one arm.
What are my options if I need to see a doctor?
Many viruses have overlapping symptoms, and it may be difficult to know if you should seek treatment and if so, where. Check out BJC HealthCare for the latest information on COVID-19, to schedule a virtual visit, find a doctor or locate the closest Convenient Care Clinic for minor illnesses, injuries or COVID-19 testing.
What if my child is ill?
Washington University Children’s After Hours locations provide convenient medical care for your child’s illnesses and injuries when your pediatrician’s office is closed.
In case of a medical emergency involving a child, St. Louis Children’s Hospital has six pediatric ER locations across the St. Louis and southern Illinois region, including:
St. Louis Children’s Hospital
Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Belleville
Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Shiloh
Children’s Hospital at Missouri Baptist Medical Center
Children’s Hospital at Northwest HealthCare
Children’s Hospital at Progress West Hospital
Knowledge, prevention and preparation are important for a healthier fall and winter, especially when it comes to protecting your loved ones.