Virginia’s healthcare community encourages Virginians who have not yet done so to get their flu shot, get their COVID-19 shot or boost, and take personal health precautions and safety as we enter what could be a particularly intense flu and respiratory illness season.
This year’s flu season is already showing up early, with signs that it could be worse than in recent years, according to a statement released by the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association and numerous hospitals and healthcare associations.
There is also an increasing number of cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can lead to serious illness and hospitalization in children and the elderly. If these trends continue, it could strain health systems in some communities.
Virginia doctors, hospitals and other care providers are already overwhelmed by a surge of sick patients seeking care, filling hospital beds and, in many cases, requiring longer hospital stays.
Data from Virginia hospitals and public health surveillance information from the Virginia Department of Health suggest the Commonwealth faces the prospect of a particularly difficult flu and respiratory illness season throughout this fall and of this winter.
Visits to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics involving RSV diagnoses in patients have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly high. Visits for flu-like illnesses are also increasing – for the week ending November 5, these visits are at least four times higher than the same week for each of the last four years.
In Virginia, we saw a 41% increase in flu-like illnesses and an overall 18% increase in respiratory illnesses over the previous week.
Virginia Immunization Information System data from July 1 through November 1. 9, 2022, indicates that flu vaccination among children under 12 is lower this year compared to the same periods in the previous three years.
These conditions are occurring even as COVID-19 remains a significant concern – the federal public health emergency over the coronavirus was recently extended and Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 478 hospitalized patients each day.
The continued presence of COVID-19 combined with the rapid spread of influenza and other respiratory illnesses presents an increased risk of developing medical complications from COVID-19 or influenza in older Virginians, those whose immune system is impaired or other medical conditions and young children.
To protect yourself and your family from influenza, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses, the healthcare community recommends taking the following steps:
- Make an appointment to get your flu shot as soon as possible. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that “everyone 6 months and older should get the flu shot every season, with rare exceptions.” Flu vaccines are available at doctor’s offices, commercial pharmacies, local health districts, and community health clinics, among others. Find out where you can get the flu shot in your community here.
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you haven’t already. Get vaccinated if you have been vaccinated but it has been at least two months since your last dose of vaccine. Bivalent booster doses are available for vaccinated persons 5 years of age and older. VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Find out where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster in your community by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling (877) VAX-IN-VA or (877) 829-4682.
- Parents of sick children are encouraged to keep them home from school and other activities to help limit the spread of infection. Parents of sick children are also advised to initially contact a pediatrician or family doctor for medical advice, unless your child is in medical distress, in which case hospital treatment may be warranted. Taking this approach helps ensure that hospital beds and emergency departments are open and available for patients with critical medical needs.
- Adults who become ill are also encouraged to stay home to limit the risk of spreading illness and to contact their healthcare provider for advice on appropriate treatment based on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors.
- People with symptoms or those who test positive are encouraged to contact their healthcare provider to determine the right treatment option for them. This is especially true for people at high risk. Since treatment is often most effective when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, people are advised not to delay seeing a doctor and starting the prescribed treatment. It is also important to remember that prescriptions such as antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are generally not appropriate or indicated for the treatment of viral infections such as influenza and RSV.
- As routine safety behavior, Virginians are encouraged to wash their hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching their face with unwashed hands, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, limiting the time children spend in large groups with other infectious people when possible, and getting tested if they think they have been exposed to the disease.
With the increase in respiratory illnesses and related hospitalizations in Virginia, getting vaccinated, taking basic health and safety measures, and seeking proper medical care and advice if you become ill, are simple ways for you helping you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season. .
In addition to the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, the following organizations and institutions have also endorsed this statement: Access Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics – Virginia Chapter, Ballad Health, Bon Secours Richmond and Hampton Roads, Carilion Clinic, Centra Health System, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, HCA Virginia, LewisGale Hospital – Alleghany, LewisGale Medical Center, LewisGale Hospital – Montgomery, LewisGale Hospital – Pulaski, Mary Washington Healthcare, the Society Medical School of Virginia, Richmond Academy of Medicine, Richmond Ambulance Authority, Riverside Health System, Sentara Healthcare, UVA Health, Valley Health System, Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants, Virginia Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, Virginia Association of Community-Based Providers, Virginia Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Virg’s section inie of the National Association of Social Workers, Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners, VCU Health, Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Center for Assisted Living, Virginia Health Care Foundation, VHC Health, Virginia Network of Private Providers, Virginia Nurses Association, Virginia Orthopedic Society, Virginia Pharmacists Association, Virginia Podiatric Medical Association, Virginia Public Health Association, Virginia Rural Health Association, and Virginia Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.