As temperatures drop and restrictions such as vaccinations and mask mandates continue to ease, Chicago-area doctors are bracing for what they predict will be a “potentially scary cold and sore season.” flu”.
According to health experts, one of the main reasons is the delay in the number of eligible people who choose to receive the flu vaccine and the bivalent COVID booster.
“Nationally, the uptick in the number of people getting the flu shot and receiving the bivalent COVID boosters has been slow,” said Dr. Gregory Huhn, acting chairman of infectious diseases and vaccine coordinator at Cook County Health during of an update on Tuesday. “As medical professionals, I think we can say that we are concerned. Historically, we know that the coming months generally lead to an increase in COVID.”
The warning comes as children’s hospitals in Illinois and across the country fill up with children needing treatment for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a respiratory virus that doesn’t typically peak from late December through mid-February. .
“The region is facing an increase in pediatric respiratory cases, leaving health care facilities, including Advocate Children’s Hospital, on high alert,” a spokesperson for Advocate Health Care said. last week in a press release. “Many sick children present with bronchiolitis, a lower respiratory tract disease commonly caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).”
However, the RSV is not the only surge area doctors have an eye on.
What Chicago doctors predict in terms of COVID cases
According to data from Cook County Health, only 9% of Suburban Cook County residents have received the bivalent COVID booster which specifically targets widely released omicron variants.
“People may ask why we need boosters and if that means vaccines aren’t working,” Huhn said Tuesday. “The COVID Reminder provides updated information as [the COVID] The virus has mutated,” he continued. “Staying up to date on our reminders ensures our bodies have the latest information code to fight this disease.”
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paved the way for anyone age five or older, who had already received a first round of COVID vaccines, to safely receive the current bivalent booster.
“Now it’s all about this current recall,” Dr. Lamar Hasbrouck, chief operating officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. “So if you’ve got the streak that’s the first two hits, and it’s been at least two months, you should go ahead and get the recall,” he said. “And by the way, you can get your flu shot at the same time you get the booster.”
However, as the uptake of reminders remains low, health experts are concerned that COVID cases are following historical COVID winter patterns.
“As far as suburban Cook County…in terms of community transmission of COVID-19, the rates are currently low,” Hasbrouck said. “However, we expect a likely increase in winter. I can’t say with any real precision, but we expect an increase.”
How flu, RSV and COVID could lead to an ‘explosion’
Health experts say reports of a “heavy influenza season” in the Southern Hemisphere coupled with an early RSV season in the United States are ringing alarm bells.
Add to that, experts say, the current number of flu hospitalizations in the United States and Europe, as well as the lifting of COVID restrictions, and concern rises.
“It’s true that for the past two seasons the flu has been relatively mild, in large part due to the precautions we have put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” said Dr. Sharon Welch Bell, director of infection control and hospital epidemiology at Cook County Health, on Tuesday. “These efforts have all been successful in preventing the spread of influenza, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses.”
However,” continued Welch Bell, “with the combination of the mitigations disappearing, the early influence, and the RSV season we are already seeing, I fully expect to see an explosion of flu , RSV, COVID and other viral respiratory illnesses this fall and winter.”
According to health experts, the best protection comes not only in the form of a COVID booster, but also by getting this season’s flu shot before the Halloween holiday.
What to know about this year’s flu vaccine
“The good news is that, based on the influenza viruses that have been circulating in the Southern Hemisphere, this year’s updated influenza vaccine will provide robust protection against serious illness in the United States,” said Welch Bell.
And since there is no vaccine yet for RSV — which can occur in children and adults, Welch Bell said — protection by the bivalent COVID vaccine and this year’s flu vaccine has become even more difficult. more important.
“It is therefore essential that we all are vaccinated to reduce the risk of transmission of influenza and COVID to those who are most at risk of serious complications, including death, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions,” said Welch Bell.
Regarding the side effects and myths surrounding the flu vaccine, Welch Bell clarified, “It’s actually not possible for this vaccine to transmit the flu to anyone, because there is no live virus in this vaccine. Sometimes people get a respiratory illness after getting a flu shot. , but I can assure you that it is because they have already been exposed to an infection before being vaccinated.”
“Of course, like after any vaccine, someone may experience some effects of the vaccine, a sore arm, mild fever, or fatigue, but you won’t get the flu from the vaccine,” continued Welch Bell, “I want to remind people who love the COVID vaccine, it takes your body two weeks to mount an immune response to the flu shot to protect you.”