Public Health leaders in the Northern Virginia region (Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Arlington Counties, including all towns and municipalities- and the City of Alexandria) are encouraging residents to maintain their vigilance in preventing several concerning diseases that are already spreading in the Northern Region this fall and winter: the seasonal flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and COVID-19. This is especially important because as temperatures cool, we spend more time indoors with others, and may travel to gather with friends and family for celebrations who are at increased risk of severe complications from infection.
Virginia is already seeing widespread reports of the influenza virus detected in recent weeks. This year’s flu season is already showing concerning, early signs that it may be worse than in recent years. More people are seeking care in hospitals and urgent care centers for influenza-like illness than at this point in previous years, particularly young children aged 0-4 years. Virginia health officials encourage everyone aged six months and older to get a flu vaccine this fall, with rare exception.
In addition, Virginia is seeing cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). RSV is common and usually causes mild to moderate cold-like symptoms but can be very dangerous for babies, young children or those who are immunocompromised. Emergency department and urgent care visits with diagnosed RSV have been increasing rapidly since early September. Practice preventive health habits to reduce the chance of infection and call your healthcare provider if you or your child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms. There is no vaccine to protect against RSV or many of the other common winter viruses.
And while we are experiencing lower COVID-19 case numbers, it is still important to take precautions to prevent illness and to minimize hospitalizations and deaths. The bivalent booster shot protects against newer strains of COVID-19.
Both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccines are widely available in Virginia at many different locations, including pharmacies, doctors’ offices and some health departments.
Public health leaders encourage everyone to maintain their layered prevention activities to prevent spreading flu, RSV and COVID-19 - especially during the season of holiday celebrations.
- Get all members of your family age 5 years and older fully vaccinated with COVID-19 booster shots, and have everyone age 6 months and older get their flu shot.
- If you are sick, do not host or attend any holiday gatherings. Stay at home and consider getting tested if you’re having any symptoms of the flu, RSV or COVID-19.
- Socially distance – stay six feet from others as much as possible. Consider wearing a mask if you cannot keep a safe distance from others, particularly if you are at increased risk of complications from infection.
- If you are having a gathering, consider hosting it outside, or in well-ventilated areas. If inside, consider limiting the number of people at your gathering to allow proper distancing.
- Avoid crowded and indoor areas where distancing is not possible, or where you will be in close contact with anyone who is not a member of your household, or whose vaccination and illness status may be unknown.
- If you think you may have COVID-19 or may have been exposed, get tested and follow guidelines for isolation and quarantine. Testing is also available if you think you may have the flu.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Wash your hands with soap and water often or use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. This will help prevent many diseases, including the seasonal flu.
Northern Virginia hospitals and health departments are closely monitoring the rapid increase in cases of these illnesses in Northern Virginia and the disease trends locally. While we can’t predict the full effect of these diseases on our community, we do know that maximizing mitigation steps is the best way to protect our community from illness.
For more information on health issues in Northern Virginia, visit www.staywellnova.com. To find a COVID-19 or flu vaccination location, visit www.vaccines.gov or contact your local health department.