COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and influenza are respiratory infections caused by different viruses. The concern is that they each have overlapping symptoms and they all come together. There are ways to keep these viruses at bay as the US enters the colder months.
“We’re not really in COVID-19 or flu season, but in respiratory infection season,” says Dr. John O’Horo, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic. “It’s impossible to distinguish based on symptoms, from a regular cold to RSV to COVID-19 to the flu, especially if you have a mild case. But you can still pass all of these on to others.”
He says people should see this as a more global question: “What can I do to prevent respiratory infections rather than what can I do to prevent COVID-19?”
“And the answers are keeping up with your vaccinations, COVID-19 and the flu; wearing a mask in appropriate settings; or if you’re a person who has been at exceptional risk, washing your hands and doing what you can if you can.” . she gets sick to avoid infecting others. That includes trying to stay home from work if you can, constantly wearing a mask if you have any kind of symptoms, and being extraordinarily diligent with measures like washing your hands,” says Dr. O’Horo.
Many of the omicron variants of COVID-19 are now in circulation: scientists, including those with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
“The important thing to know about these subvariants is that each of them is still omicron. They have the same characteristics that omicron has. It’s highly transmissible. It doesn’t lead to the same degree of hospitalizations or deaths that we saw with previous variants. And its chances of severe disease are still much lower if you’re vaccinated and up-to-date on your shots,” says Dr. O’Horo.
What is happening with omicron variants in the US is being seen in other parts of the world, explains Dr. O’Horo.
“And that’s the same thing we’re seeing all over the world at this point. Everywhere. The omicron sub-variants are becoming more dominant; there’s more of what’s called immune escape, where those who have a previous infection, or particularly older vaccines that were a long time ago, they’re more likely to get infected,” he says. “But there still appears to be a substantial benefit in updating your vaccine now, compared to being vaccinated or infectious before.”
Dr. O’Horo says cases of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections are likely to increase due to the upcoming colder months and the holiday season.
“We’ve always thought there would be some seasonality to COVID-19. And coming around the holidays, especially, we can expect that we’ll see an increase in cases. We’ll probably also see an increase in hospitalizations — partly because of the natural increase that we’re seeing and partly due to the low acceptance of bivalent booster vaccines,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll see that spike with vaccines and mitigate some of that, but this is a respiratory infection season. And it’s not just COVID-19 that we have to worry about this time. Influenza levels are likely to rise as well.” “. And this is expected to be a more severe flu season because we’ve had two years without a flu season.”
Prevent respiratory infections
Dr. O’Horo says studies show bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccines offer substantial benefit. He recommends that all eligible people get vaccinated.
In addition to making sure you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu, there are many other protective steps you can take to make sure you and your family stay healthy.
Tips to protect yourself against respiratory infections:
• Get vaccinated (COVID-19 and flu).
• Wash your hands often with soap and water.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Avoid crowded areas.
• Masking is still a good option.
• Get tested.
While masking may not be universally practiced, according to Dr. O’Horo, wearing a mask when you have symptoms of a respiratory infection will help prevent other people from getting sick.
“As you enter this season, it will be natural to have colds, flu and COVID-19 infections. It’s more likely to happen,” he says. “If that happens, it’s important to get tested to avoid exposure and expose others if you have symptoms, whether it’s COVID-19 or not. Masking is still a great way to keep others from getting sick.”