December 21, 2023
Rates of respiratory viruses are increasing state wide and nationally, this includes COVID-19, flu, RSV and other influenza-like illnesses. COVID-19 hospitalization rates are increasing nationally and in Missouri, which can put a strain on healthcare systems and the individuals who are hospitalized if these trends continue.
Wastewater (sewage) was tested during the pandemic, and continues to be tested, to watch for COVID-19 viral activity. Nationally, wastewater viral activity is very high for COVID-19, which tells us that the virus is circulating, even if people do not have symptoms or are not being tested.
Symptoms of respiratory viruses, such as COVID, Flu, and RSV, can be similar such as runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, and headache. Flu and COVID-19 symptoms can also include fatigue, body aches, congestion. Some may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea with flu and COVID, but it is more likely with COVID-19. A symptom associated with COVID-19 but not flu, is a new loss of taste or smell. A common cold may also be causing your symptoms, but those are generally milder, have a gradual onset, and do not usually include a fever. It is hard to tell which respiratory illness you have based on symptoms alone, which makes testing an important tool to getting treated when you are sick. The Macon County Health Department offers free COVID, flu, and RSV testing by appointment for individuals who are symptomatic.
Respiratory viruses, including COVID, flu, and RSV, can all lead to the development of pneumonia in all age groups. Vaccination against these viruses can also reduce the risk of developing pneumonia as a secondary infection.
Typical patterns of respiratory illnesses tell us we have not reached the peak yet this season, but we have tools to help reduce our risk of severe illness, hospitalizations, and death due to these illnesses.
- Stay home if you’re sick. It is hard to miss important events, holidays and appointments, but going to these while you are sick will continue to pass on the illness to others. Respiratory viruses can be particularly hard on kids, older adults, and anyone who is immunocompromised.
- Wash your hands frequently. Handwashing with warm water and soap removes most germs from your hands, including respiratory viruses. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Germs from unwashed hands can get into your food, transferred to others by touching a common object, or get into our body when we touch our face.
- Improving air quality through ventilation in your home can reduce virus particles in the air and reduce respiratory viruses. Opening windows or doors, turning on the fan, and using air filters are all options to improve the air quality. If your home has central air or an HVAC system, make sure filters are installed properly and replaced on schedule. Moving an event outside is also an option if the event and weather allow.
- Cover your cough and sneezes. This is a simple way to reduce spreading germs into the air. Remember to wash your hands afterwards.
- Stay up to date on vaccinations. This is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of respiratory viruses. Vaccines take a few weeks to build immunity so be sure to plan vaccinations with enough time before big events, like holidays.
- Flu – annual flu vaccines are available to ages 6 months and up
- COVID-19 – ages 6 months and up should receive a covid-19 vaccine this fall (beginning September 2023).
- The Macon County Health Department carries Pfizer, which is only available for ages 12 and up. For those younger than 12, speak to your pediatrician about where to get vaccinated.
- RSV – available to infants in their first RSV season, women between 32-36 weeks pregnant, and adults ages 60 years old and up.
- The Macon County Health Department carries the RSV vaccine available for pregnant women and adults. For infants, speak to your pediatrician about receiving this vaccine.
- Pneumonia – Children receive pneumonia vaccines as part of their regular childhood immunizations, keeping them on schedule is important to reduce their risk of pneumonia. Adults ages 65 and older are recommended to get the pneumonia vaccine and some younger adults with certain chronic health conditions. The Macon County Health Department carries a variety of pneumonia vaccines to be able to offer the best vaccine for your health and previous vaccination history.
- Get tested if you begin showing signs of a respiratory virus. Getting tested can help you make the decision to stay home from school, work, or an event if you are showing symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for a respiratory illness. You can test pro-actively test before going to visit in a hospital or nursing home to reduce the risk of spreading illness to high-risk populations. If you are high risk for severe infection or hospitalization, this can also allow you to speak with your doctor about beginning an antiviral treatment, such as paxlovid or Tamiflu, as they see fit.
- The Macon County Health Department offers free COVID, flu, and RSV testing by appointment for individuals who are symptomatic.
- You can get 8 free at-home tests online through online.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a Health Advisory urging for the need of increased vaccination rates for COVID, flu, and RSV as respiratory illness activity increases. Vaccines can reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from a preventable disease, keeping your family healthy and safe. For more information about vaccines to prevent against respiratory viruses, testing, or general health information, contact the Macon County Health Department.