Respiratory illnesses on the upswing heading into holiday season

Doctors say they are seeing a lot of flu, COVID-19 and RSV cases, with some strep and hand, foot, and mouth disease mixed in.
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:03 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:04 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - We are heading into the giving season, but one thing you certainly don’t want to give your loved one is any illness.

Unfortunately, respiratory illnesses are on the upswing.

Doctors at Patient First in Mechanicsville and the Richmond Henrico Health District say they are seeing a lot of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV right now, with some cases of strep and hand, foot, and mouth disease mixed in there too.

Most of the sicknesses are spread by being around others, so if you’re starting to not feel well, you may want to rethink some holiday plans. The cold weather is bringing more people indoors and increases cases of respiratory illnesses.

“People are moving inside, so they tend to be with folks in closer quarters. There’s higher opportunity to spread respiratory viruses, as well as the change in weather. The cold air kind of impacts our nasal passages and can then impact the way that our body is able to respond when it comes into contact with those viruses,” RHHD Epidemiology Supervisor Louise Lockett Gordon said.

Lockett Gordon says about 3.3% of emergency department visits are for people being diagnosed with the flu right now. RSV numbers are not as high as that, but still on the rise.

“Now that COVID is with us and here to stay, COVID is part of that mix that we’re seeing during these winter months. So, we’ve actually seen a decline and COVID since our summer wave, but the number of visits are still pretty high - around 2,000 visits or so on a weekly basis across the state,” Lockett Gordon said.

Respiratory illnesses are spread by respiratory droplets, which will come from coughing and sneezing. The medical director at Mechanicsville’s Patient First says that means kids in classrooms are likely to get each other sick. Other congregated settings contribute to the spread too.

It is a reminder to be safe around the holidays when gathering with loved ones. AAA is already predicting an increase of people traveling this Thanksgiving, which could mean more people gathering with one another.

Dr. Melissa Aquilo says getting vaccinated is one of the best layers of protection right now, helping prevent severe disease this holiday and winter season.

“It takes a couple of weeks to build up that immunity to your first set of vaccinations. But if you have been vaccinated before, a booster now may give you some help before Thanksgiving, right? Because you’ve already got some of that in your system,” Aquilo said.

Doctors say the full effect from the vaccine hits around two weeks after getting it.

If you are starting to feel sick, Aquilo says you can take an at-home COVID test or go see a doctor. She says if your doctor is recommending a test, take the test so you can rule out other illnesses, as many may appear similar and start with a sore throat.

Some medications require getting seen within a certain window, so it is best to be safe and get checked out.

To prevent getting sick, now is a good time to remember to wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, wear a mask, and do not go out to public places if you are not feeling well.

“If you’re sick, stay home. You can have turkey with someone on a different day,” Dr. Aquilo said.