Family Health

Flu, RSV and COVID-19 Cases on the Rise: A Q&A With an MD on How To Keep Your Family Safe

Published: Oct. 25, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of influenza are starting to ramp up throughout much of the country – and, unfortunately, that’s not exactly translating to a similar spike in flu vaccination rates. At the same time, we’re seeing unusually high rates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and another uptick in reported COVID-19 cases, with only 8% of Nebraska’s eligible population receiving the updated COVID-19 booster dose. In Iowa, that percentage is higher but not by much – 11.4%.

Experts predicted this would be a rough winter, but it’s only fall – which is causing concern for many families.

Here are answers to some of the questions you likely have:

Q: Why are experts warning of a severe flu season this year?
A: If you remember, influenza seemed to disappear during the last two years. People still got infected, but we definitely didn’t see the numbers we normally do during flu season (October – February). That’s likely due to the COVID-19 precautions we adopted, such as masking and social distancing. Essentially, it’s been a couple years since many of us were exposed to influenza. And with those precautions much less common now, influenza and other respiratory viruses are bound to spread more easily.

Q: What other viruses do I need to be concerned about this cold and flu season?
A: There are several viruses going around right now, but influenza and RSV are most concerning. Like last year, we’re seeing another rise in RSV cases, which is scary for parents of young children – especially those under 4 months of age, who are at greatest risk for hospitalization or death. Adults can get RSV, too, but unless they have underlying health issues, their illness usually is relatively mild. In young children and adults, pneumonia is one of the biggest threats of influenza and RSV.

And remember: It’s not just severe illness we need to be concerned about with COVID-19. Anyone – not just the immunocompromised – can develop long-term symptoms or long COVID.

Q: With masks and social distancing largely a thing of the past, how do I protect my family?
A: Get vaccinated! Many of the influenza cases we’re seeing now are influenza A, and this year’s vaccine is a good match for that. The new COVID-19 bivalent boosters – which are now available to anyone 5 and older who’s received their primary COVID-19 vaccine series – are designed to target the circulating Omicron subvariants. Now is the time to take advantage of these safe and effective vaccines.

Additionally, we know that COVID-19 and influenza are spread through respiratory droplets. RSV is spread through direct contact. So continue to cover your coughs, practice good hand hygiene and stay home when you’re sick.

Q: Why do I need the flu shot if I never get the flu?
A: Because it’s not just about you. Just like with COVID-19, you can have the flu and be asymptomatic. And by spreading it to someone less healthy, you’re putting them at risk for hospitalization or even death. Just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the 2019-2020 season, the CDC estimated there were 25,000 deaths and 390,000 hospitalizations related to the flu. Since we’re on track to have a more severe flu season than “normal,” those numbers could significantly increase. Everyone needs to do their part.

Q: If someone in my family becomes sick, when should I seek emergency care?
A: Get familiar with the emergency warning signs for influenza, RSV and COVID-19. Some of the big ones are labored breathing or wheezing, a persistent fever over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, seizures, chest pain, and severe lethargy or weakness. But, of course, don’t hesitate to call your provider for any symptom that seems concerning.

Protection = Peace of Mind

The looming threat of potentially serious viruses can feel overwhelming. And juggling illness with busy schedules is less than convenient. But by arming yourself with the necessary protection, you can rest assured that any cough or sniffle your family may encounter will likely remain just that – a minor inconvenience.

Reach out to your provider if you have more questions on preventing serious complications this cold and flu season. And schedule your flu and COVID-19 vaccines today.

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About the Author

John Dobleman, MD, brings high energy and a spirit of collaboration to every meeting he has with patients.

“I want the patient to know that we’re on a team,” said Dr. Dobleman, who specializes in family medicine at Methodist Physicians Clinic Prairie Fields. “I really want to know about their life. I want to know what drives them, what motivates them. I am truly excited to find out what a patient’s goals are and how I can help them achieve those goals. I enjoy teaching my patients when I can, and I appreciate it when they have something to teach me.”

He's passionate about secondary prevention – helping patients prevent further complications from conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart failure and gastrointestinal diseases. This, he said, is key to helping them achieve their lifestyle goals.

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John Dobleman, MD