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North GA - In Georgia and across the U.S., the number of illnesses brought on by circulating respiratory viruses has increased.
Along with COVID-19, spread of seasonal respiratory diseases Influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) was restricted by prevention practices established during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these viruses got off to an early start in our communities this season now that safety precautions have eased, and health officials are concerned about the impacts of what has been termed a "tripledemic”.
The phrase "tripledemic” refers to the simultaneous rise in FLU, COVID-19, and RSV transmission. The strain on our healthcare system is a particular cause for worry as the medical community struggles to combat the consequences of these infections.
COVID and RSV cases are starting to plateau while influenza cases continue rising. Still, experts worry that we might again see an increase in all three after the recent holiday social gatherings.
In the next months, it will be crucial to take action to protect both ourselves and others from these diseases.
What distinguishes the Flu from COVID-19 and RSV?
All three extremely contagious respiratory illnesses—the flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—are brought on by viruses. The flu is brought on by the influenza virus, COVID-19 by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and RSV by the respiratory syncytial virus. It is conceivable for a person to have several viruses active at once.
Why does Flu occur?
The influenza virus, which causes the flu, is more contagious during the winter months when people spend more time indoors together. You should get vaccinated against the flu every year since there are many different influenza virus strains and the virus might change from year to year.
What is the cause of COVID-19?
The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is what causes COVID-19. The corona-like form of viruses in the coronavirus family gave them that name. The word "coronavirus" is occasionally used to refer to the novel COVID-19 virus, however, there are several other varieties of coronaviruses that frequently infect people.
What causes RSV?
The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can infect both children and adults, is the cause of RSV. RSV is often a mild sickness that resembles the common cold in adults and older kids. The signs can be more severe in young children and the elderly.
What signs do Flu, COVID-19, and RSV exhibit?
Symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are so similar, according to the CDC, that it may be difficult to distinguish between the two. Compared to the flu, SARS-CoV-2 infections can take longer for patients to manifest symptoms and cause infection in others.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF FLU
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Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Flu vaccination is the best way to prevent flu. Studies show that getting vaccinated reduces your risk of:
- flu illnesses
- doctor’s visits
- flu-related hospitalizations
- life-threatening flu illness
Flu vaccines can be safely given at the same time as COVID-19 vaccines.
Who Should Get a Flu Vaccine?
Routine annual flu vaccination is recommended for all people 6 months of age and older who do not have contraindications.
Vaccination is recommended for all but is especially important for some groups at higher risk of flu complications:
- Children younger than 5 years of age
- Adults over 50 years of age
- Pregnant people
- People with chronic medical conditions (for example, heart disease and diabetes)
- Close contacts and caregivers of the groups listed above
Flu vaccines are available at all our County Health Departments in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens, and Whitfield counties. No appointment is needed during regular clinic hours. Flu vaccine is also available through medical clinics and local pharmacies.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19
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People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, and may include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Symptoms may change with new COVID-19 variants and can vary depending on vaccination status.
Older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
If someone is showing any of these signs, call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility. Notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.
Good health habits like avoiding people who are sick, covering your cough and washing your hands often can also help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like flu. See Health Habits to Help Protect Against Flu on the CDC website.
For COVID-19, prevention means getting and staying up to date on your COVID-19 Vaccines.
- CDC recommends that everyone who is eligible be vaccinated and get a recommended booster to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines, especially people with weakened immune systems.
- COVID-19 Vaccines are available for Free at our County Health Departments and no appointment is needed during regular clinic hours. You could also use Vaccines.gov to find COVID-19 vaccine and boosters at a location near you.
- COVID-19 Testing is the only way to really be sure you are infected. Then you can prevent the spread of the virus. Free drive-thru testing is available in North Georgia and free at-home-test kits are currently available at covid.gov/tests.
- Preventing COVID-19 also means seeking treatment if you think you are sick and practicing everyday preventive actions that also work for other respiratory diseases, like flu and RSV.
Along with maintaining the healthy habits mentioned above, see additional information for protecting yourself from COVID-19.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF RSV
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RSV can spread when:
- An infected person coughs or sneezes
- You get virus droplets from a cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose, or mouth
- You have direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV
- You touch a surface that has the virus on it, like a doorknob, and then touch your face before washing your hands
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for 3 to 8 days and may become contagious a day or two before they start showing signs of illness. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as 4 weeks.
Children are often exposed to and infected with RSV outside the home, such as in school or childcare centers. They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.
RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails. It typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.
People are typically infected with RSV for the first time as an infant or toddler and nearly all children are infected before their second birthday.
Symptoms of RSV infection usually include:
- Runny nose
- Decrease in appetite
These symptoms usually appear in stages and not all at once. In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.
Call your healthcare professional if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.
Click HERE to the CDC to find out about Care recommendations needed for someone infected with RSV and learn about Serious Health Problems that can be caused by RSV.
There are steps you can take to help prevent the spread of RSV. Specifically, if you have cold-like symptoms you should:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid close contact, such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- Limit the time your children spends in contagious settings during periods of high RSV activity
- Clean frequently touched surfaces
Ideally, people with cold-like symptoms should not interact with children at high risk for severe RSV disease, including premature infants, children younger than 2 years of age with chronic lung or heart conditions, children with weakened immune systems, or children with neuromuscular disorders. If this is not possible, they should carefully follow the prevention steps mentioned above and wash their hands before interacting with such children.
Researchers are working to develop RSV vaccines, but none are available yet.
Reference: All information found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: https://www.cdc.gov/