VDH sounding alarm on spike in respiratory illness before holidays

Health experts are urging you to take precautions to protect yourself from the flu. The Virginia Department of Health saying the flu is about 4 times as prevale
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 9:07 PM EST
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - As you rush around to prepare for Thanksgiving, Virginia’s health officials say you need to be extra careful to protect yourself from the cold and flu.

They sound the alarm that cases of flu and other respiratory illnesses have exploded several times compared to a year ago.

Elena Diskin with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) says the triple threat from the Flu, COVID-19 and RSV has also led to a shortage of hospital beds and, in many cases, required longer stays.

Diskin says the VDH and the CDC closely monitor influenza-like illnesses (ILI) to determine the severity of spread across the country.

“One thing that we look closely at is the number of people who go to the emergency departments and urgent care that present with flu-like symptoms,” Diskin said. “We’ve been seeing much higher than expected and much higher than in previous years level of people going to seek care in Virginia and in the rest of the US. We look at confirmatory lab results. We look at the number of outbreaks that are happening.”

We’re seeing an increase in seasonal Flu activity in Virginia and the nation. The increase has also led to increased visits to places like Patient First.

Sisters Anyae and Barrisha Jackson said they showed up Monday just to be sure they weren’t coming down with the flu.

“Honestly, because I’m in the army, I get vaccinated all the time, so I try to stay vaccinated or at least try to stay up on my vitamins and do everything I can to stay safe,” Anyae said. “It is pretty packed in there. You do see a lot of people coughing and trying to figure out what’s going on in there.”

According to state health officials, for the week ending Nov. 5, such visits are at least four times as high than in the same week for each of the past four years.

Virginia Immunization Information System data from the past four months shows that flu vaccine uptake in children under 12 is lower this year than during the previous three years.

Diskin says a primary culprit of the spread is the mitigation steps that were more consistently followed during the pandemic.

“For the past two years, during the height of the pandemic, we were all taking a lot of extra mitigation steps that do a great deal to keep ourselves healthy and safe,” Diskin said.

Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 486 hospital inpatients each day. The continued presence of COVID-19 combined with the rapid spread of flu and other respiratory illness poses a heightened risk of developing medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu among older Virginians, individuals with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions and younger children.

Diskin says implementing similar pandemic precautions can go a long way to keep from sharing your sickness this Thanksgiving.

“Getting your Flu shot every year, staying up to date with your vaccines and booster, and then a lot of the everyday preventative steps,” Diskin said. “Avoiding contact with sick people or staying home yourself if you’re not feeling great.”

  • Make an appointment to get a flu vaccine as soon as possible.
  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not done so already. Get boosted if you have been vaccinated, but it has been at least 2 months since your last vaccine dose.
  • Parents of sick children are encouraged to keep them home from school and other activities to help limit the spread of infection.
  • Adults who become ill are encouraged to stay home to limit the risk of spreading illness and to contact their healthcare provider for evaluation, testing, and/or guidance on the appropriate course of treatment, depending on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors.
  • People are also encouraged to avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, and limit the time children spend in large group settings with other contagious individuals when possible.
  • Individuals with symptoms, or those who test positive, are encouraged to contact their healthcare providers to determine the treatment option that is right for them. This is especially true for high-risk individuals.

Also, if you develop flu or COVID-like symptoms, be sure not to delay seeking medical help. Treatment sought within five days of symptoms developing is usually more effective.