As we move through the winter season, it can be difficult differentiating respiratory illnesses, what vaccines are available, and what infection control efforts (IPC) are best to protect your loved ones.
Lori T. Freeman
CEO, The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO)
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory infection which results in substantial morbidity and mortality each year. RSV can be especially dangerous in more vulnerable populations such as young or premature infants, individuals with pre-existing conditions like heart or lung disease, and adults above the age of 65. As such, RSV is currently the leading cause of hospitalization in infants, and it results in approximately 14,000 deaths annually across age groups.
Influenza, or the flu, is also a common respiratory illness, and its burden cannot be overstated. A recent analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the past decade (2010–2020), the annual incidence of illness due to flu ranged from 9 to 40 million; hospitalizations ranged from 140,000 to 710,000; and deaths ranged from 12,000 to 52,000 each year.
Early data from the current flu season (2022-2023) show increasing flu activity across the country and lagging rates of vaccination.
The emergent COVID-19 virus has also presented a tremendous impact on the United States within the last few years. CDC estimations indicate that there were about 146.6 million total infections, 124 million symptomatic illnesses, 7.5 million hospitalizations, and 921,000 total deaths between February 2020 and September 2021. In fact, more than 1.07 million Americans have died from COVID-19 to date.
Keeping your loved ones safe
All three infections have similar symptoms, including cough, a runny nose, or fever. While there is currently no vaccine for RSV, flu and COVID-19 vaccines are readily available to all people 6 months and older. Vaccines are the most effective way of preventing serious illness and hospitalization from flu and COVID-19.
Some other ways to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from respiratory illnesses at large include masking, particularly when you’re sick or in a crowded area, washing your hands with soap and water, covering your coughs and sneezes, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, avoiding close contact with others who may be sick, and staying home when you are sick.
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local governmental health departments. NACCHO is strengthening local health departments’ (LHD) capacity to control and prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses by creating learning opportunities, providing technical support and resources, and facilitating peer exchange.
Part of NACCHO’s COVID-19 response includes a dedicated COVID-19 Virtual Community, a secure platform where LHDs can post questions to fellow colleagues, raise issues to NACCHO, and find resources from federal partners and other LHDs. To learn more about how NACCHO supports LHDs, visit its webpage here.