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Prepare for and Prevent Seasonal Viruses

Winter’s frigid temperatures often drive us to gather indoors with family and friends, increasing the risk of developing a respiratory illness. The lessons learned from managing COVID-19 help with other winter illnesses such as colds, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can significantly affect young children. Medical experts remind us to:

  • Stay home from work, school or day care when sick.

  • Wash 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 and health care settings.

  • Get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19.

  • Avoid large groups and crowded indoor places.

  • Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices.

Differences Between Seasonal Viruses and How to Treat Them

Respiratory viruses show similar symptoms, making it difficult to know which one you might have. Here’s what to know.

Common cold

Symptoms: A cold may start with a runny nose, mild nasal congestion or a low-grade fever and tends to last five to 10 days.
What to do: There is no cure, but symptomatic care includes pain-relieving medications and fluids. Cough suppressants/cough syrups are not recommended for children under three years, but honey may be given for children over one year of age.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Symptoms: RSV is often characterized by a strong cough that may come in fits and can cause wheezing or chest tightness. RSV typically lasts seven to 10 days.
What to do: RSV is especially dangerous for premature infants, babies less than six months of age, adults over 65 and anyone with underlying problems affecting the heart, lungs or immune system. Any child having difficulty breathing should be evaluated in an emergency department.

Influenza (seasonal flu):

Symptoms: While it sometimes can feel like a severe cold, symptoms include high fevers, chills, body aches, headaches and severe coughs, which can last for seven to 10 days and gradually improve.
What to do: Because the flu can cause serious illness, even death, everyone six months and older is urged to get vaccinated.

COVID-19 (now classified with seasonal viral illnesses)

Symptoms: Some people will be asymptomatic, while others may exhibit a cough, fever, loss of taste or smell and/or profound tiredness.
What to do: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone who is eligible get the new updated booster, especially those with weakened immune systems. If you are at high risk of getting very sick due to age or chronic illnesses, or test positive, contact your primary care physician or visit a Convenient Care Clinic to seek treatment.

Get Vaccinated for Both COVID-19 and the Flu

It is safe to get both flu and COVID-19 vaccines during the same visit, according to the CDC. This can 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 COVID-19 vaccine to reduce side effects in one arm.

Protecting Yourself and Loved Ones

Many viruses have overlapping symptoms, and it may be difficult to know when and where to seek treatment. This winter and fall season, make sure to understand how to prevent and prepare for seasonal viruses to best protect your loved ones.

Visit 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.

Washington University Children’s After Hours provides convenient medical care at several locations for your child’s illnesses and injuries when your pediatrician’s office is closed.

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