October 30, 2023
Getting Your Shots May Help With the Imminent Flu Season
A nurse prepares an injection of the influenza vaccine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 2013.
For most people, the winter season means a cold or a flu. Respiratory disease-causing viruses typically flourish in the population during the fall and winter. Prior to COVID-19, the flu and RSV viruses accounted for the majority of severe respiratory illnesses at this time of year. When some people contract the flu or RSV, they may only experience minor symptoms, but others can become severe enough to require hospitalization. Based on the viral strains that are circulating and our immunity to them, some seasons are more severe than others.
The number of persons hospitalized due to illness is one indicator of a season's severity because it puts a strain on the healthcare system. However, experts emphasize the significance of getting immunized now to stay healthy during the winter and lessen the burden on the healthcare system. The first symptoms of respiratory virus season are just beginning to appear in the United States.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that this year's respiratory disease season will be worse than pre-epidemic years and similar to previous years when hospitals were busier than at any other time during the pandemic. Not only do we have to look out for the influenza virus (flu), and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), also known as the common cold, but COVID-19 as well.
According to the CDC, there isn't much flu activity right now, but there have been minor spikes in certain areas. During the second week of October, respiratory illnesses that included fever and a cough or sore throat accounted for about 2% of outpatient medical visits. The CDC thinks that's still below the baseline level, but it's already greater than it was at this point in every season since 2010, with the exception of last year.
But that won't last forever, and according to experts, immunizations will be essential to preserving people's safety and health. There are several factors to consider if the demand on the healthcare system will increase from what it was last year or the year before.
According to CDC data, the combined hospitalization rates for COVID-19, flu, and RSV in the first part of October were less than half of the same period the previous year. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 has been declining for approximately a month. The CDC projections indicate that the number of new admissions, which was approximately 16,000 in the second week of October, will likely remain rather stable over the following few weeks.
“There are lots of reasons to think about whether there will be an even greater demand on the healthcare system than there was last year or the year before that,” Nancy Foster, Vice President for Quality and Patient Safety Policy at the American Hospital Association, told CNN. “Our number one ask is that people get their vaccines, and now’s the time. It’s been shown in good studies to be the number one thing that keeps patients from either getting the disease — or if they do get it, from getting as sick as they might and needing to come into the hospital.”
Vaccines against all three major respiratory viruses are now accessible in the US for the first time. The current COVID-19 vaccine and the seasonal flu shot should be administered to all individuals six months of age and older. Additionally, vaccination against RSV is advised for specific populations, such as elderly adults and newborns, who are especially vulnerable to serious illness. Getting the flu shot before the end of October is recommended by the CDC. Flu, Covid-19, and RSV vaccinations can all be administered in the same appointment.
“Even with the end of the COVID-19 (public health emergency), our nation is in its strongest position yet to fight the three viruses responsible for the majority of fall and winter hospitalizations — flu, COVID-19, and RSV,” a spokesperson from the US Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement to CNN. “In addition, HHS has been in constant communication with public health departments, providers, stakeholders, and medical associations for months — through webinars, stakeholder engagement, news appearances, and more — on the importance of vaccination this fall and winter respiratory virus season, when cases are expected to rise, as they do annually.”
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