In the Public Health: 'Tis the season ... for respiratory illnesses. Here's how to prepare.

As we approach the holiday season and look forward to enjoying the winter weather, it is also important to be aware of some of the respiratory illnesses which are more prevalent this time of the year.

Going into December, we are going into the peak influenza season. Already this year, we have seen an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and have started seeing people test positive for the flu, while we are still seeing people test positive for COVID-19.

Many of us are all familiar with the flu and COVID-19 but may not have heard of RSV. RSV is also a virus that can cause infection of the upper and lower respiratory tract in people of all ages. Like the flu, RSV is also more common in the winter months in Iowa, generally from December to April.

RSV is seen more frequently in babies (especially those born early), in people with immune system problems, heart or lung problems, and older adults, who have a higher risk of getting severe disease with the RSV infection.

The infection may cause mild symptoms like those of the common cold: a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, wheezing and coughing, a low fever, and earache. While for others it may cause more severe disease requiring medical intervention.

There is currently no vaccine for RSV. However, unlike RSV, there are vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu. The COVID-19 vaccine is available for anyone six months and older.

The recently released bivalent COVID-19 vaccine includes both the component of the original virus strain to provide broad protection against COVID-19 and a component of the omicron variant to provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant.

A vaccine for the flu is also available. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months of age and older to get the flu vaccine each year. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications is by getting an annual flu vaccine.

Even when flu vaccination does not prevent illness entirely, it has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

There are some other things we can do to protect ourselves this winter. The same preventive measures we have been using these past two years for COVID will help protect against the flu and RSV: wash your hands frequently, stay away from others you know are ill, do not share items such as cups, glasses, or utensils, throw tissues away right after they are used, and clean surfaces regularly.

Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Cleaning and disinfecting touched surfaces at home, work, or school will eliminate some of those surface area germs. And be sure to get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Places offering the flu and COVID-19 vaccines this year:

  • Doctors’ offices

  • Pharmacies

  • Supermarkets

  • Public Health

To find out more about vaccines, contact your healthcare provider or visit www.cdc.gov.

Des Moines County Public Health offers the flu and COVID vaccine from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. No appointment necessary.

This article originally appeared on The Hawk Eye: What to know about COVID-19, influenza and RSV this winter