As temperatures drop and restrictions like vaccination and mask mandates continue to ease, Chicago-area doctors are bracing for what they predict will be a “potentially scary cold and flu season.”
One of the main reasons, health experts say, is a delay in eligible people opting to get the flu shot and the bivalent COVID booster.
“Nationally, the increase in people getting flu shots and receiving bivalent COVID boosters has been slow,” said Dr. Gregory Huhn, interim chair of infectious diseases and vaccine coordinator at Cook County Health, during a update Tuesday. “As health professionals, I think we can say that we are concerned. Historically, we know that the next few months usually lead to an increase in COVID.”
The warning comes as pediatric hospitals across Illinois and the country are filling up with children who need treatment for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)a respiratory virus that does not normally peak between late December and mid-February.
“The region is facing a sudden increase in pediatric respiratory cases, leaving health care facilities, including Advocate Children’s Hospital, on high alert,” a spokesperson for Advocate Health Care said in a statement last week. “Many sick children have bronchiolitis, a lower respiratory tract illness frequently caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).”
However, RSV is not the only area of increased pressure doctors are eyeing.
What Chicago doctors predict in terms of COVID cases
According to data from Cook County Health, only 9% of people in suburban Cook County have received the bivalent COVID booster, which specifically targets widely circulating omicron variants.
“People may ask why we need boosters and if that means the vaccines don’t work,” Huhn said Tuesday. “The COVID booster provides up-to-date information such as [the COVID] The virus has mutated,” he continued. “Keeping up with our boosters ensures our bodies have the latest information code to fight this disease.”
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the way for anyone age five and older, who previously received an initial series of COVID vaccines, to safely receive the current bivalent booster.
“Now, it’s about this current booster,” Dr. Lamar Hasbrouck, director of operations for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. “So if you got the first two shot series, and it’s been at least two months, you should go ahead and get the booster,” he said. “And, by the way, you can get your flu shot at the same time you get your booster.”
However, with booster adoption remaining low, health experts are concerned that COVID cases will follow historical winter COVID patterns.
“In terms of suburban Cook County … in terms of community transmission of COVID-19, the rates are currently low,” Hasbrouck said. “However, we expect a likely increase in the winter. I can’t say with real precision, but we do expect an increase.”
How the flu, RSV and COVID could lead to an “explosion”
According to health experts, reports of a “heavy flu season” in the southern hemisphere coupled with an early RSV season in the US are raising alarm bells.
Add to that, experts say, the current number of flu hospitalizations in the US and Europe, along with the lifting of COVID restrictions, and concern mounts.
“It is true that in the last two seasons, the flu has been relatively mild, largely due to the precautions we have taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” said Dr. Sharon Welch Bell, Director of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology at Cook County Health on Tuesday. “All of these efforts were highly successful in preventing the spread of influenza, RSV and other respiratory illnesses.”
However,” Welch Bell continued, “with the combination of mitigation measures fading, early influence, and the RSV season we’re already seeing, I expect to see an explosion of influenza, RSV, COVID, and other respiratory viral illnesses, this fall and winter.
The best protection, health experts say, comes not only in the form of a COVID booster, but also in getting this season’s flu shot before the Halloween holidays.
What you should know about this year’s flu shot
“The good news is that, based on the influenza viruses that have circulated in the southern hemisphere, this year’s influenza vaccine, which has been updated, will provide strong protection against serious illness in the US,” Welch Bell said. .
And since there is no vaccine to date for RSV, which can occur in children and adults, Welch Bell said, protection through the bivalent injection of COVID and this year’s flu shot has become even more important.
“Therefore, it is essential that we all get vaccinated to reduce the risk of transmission of influenza and COVID to those who are most at risk of serious complications from the disease, including death, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses. Chronicles Welch Bell said.
As for side effects and myths surrounding the flu vaccine, Welch Bell clarified: “This vaccine can’t really give someone the flu, because it doesn’t contain live viruses. Sometimes people get respiratory illness after receiving the influenza vaccine. , but I can assure you that it is because they were already exposed to an infection before being vaccinated.”
“Of course, just like after any vaccination, someone might feel some effects from the injection, arm pain, low-grade fever, or fatigue, but they won’t get the flu from the vaccine,” Welch Bell continued, “I want to remind people who who like the COVID vaccine, it takes two weeks for your body to mount an immune response to the influenza vaccine to protect you.”