Public Health Message: Surge of Respiratory Illnesses
Public Health Message: Surge of Respiratory Illnesses

Our friends at the Maternal and Child Health Bureau have shared with us that with winter still more than a month away, they are already experiencing a surge in pediatric respiratory infections, including the flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). 

These infections, along with ongoing staffing shortages and emergency department and inpatient stays for behavioral health concerns, are straining the capacity of healthcare systems across the country.

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CDC data suggest that each year in the United States, RSV leads to approximately 2.1 million outpatient visits and as many as 80,000 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old. 

In addition, between 7,000 and 28,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized for flu annually. Infants and younger children, as well as children with developmental disabilities or chronic medical conditions, are at higher risk for severe infection from respiratory viruses.

We want to remind parents, children, adolescents, and families of the steps they can take to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

An important step that parents and caregivers can take is to get vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 to help keep kids—especially those under 6 months, who can’t yet receive flu or COVID-19 vaccines—safe.

Vaccinating against flu and COVID-19 is a primary strategy for preventing illness and reducing the severity of illness; this not only protects individuals from potentially serious respiratory disease but also helps to prevent additional strain on the health care system.

Below are the CDC recommendations for flu and COVID-19 vaccinations:

  • Annual flu vaccination is recommended for all people 6 months and older who do not have contraindications (which are rare)
  • People ages 6 months and older are recommended to receive a primary series of any age-appropriate FDA-approved or FDA-authorized monovalent COVID-19 vaccine
  • People ages 5 years and older are recommended to receive 1 bivalent mRNA booster dose after completion of any FDA-approved or FDA-authorized monovalent primary series or previously received monovalent booster dose(s)

Children younger than six months of age are not eligible for flu or COVID-19 vaccines. As noted above, an important strategy for keeping these youngest infants safe is to make sure that everyone around them—parents, siblings, other relatives and caregivers—are vaccinated against flu and COVID-19.

In addition to staying up to date on their flu and COVID-19 vaccines and protecting high-risk infants, people can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses by taking the following everyday actions:

  • Avoid close contact (such as kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils) with people who are sick
  • Stay home when sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve (not your hands)
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Clean frequently-touched surfaces such as doorknobs and mobile devices

Together with our healthcare partners across the country, we thank you in advance for helping to promote vaccinations and spread the word about ways that we can keep children and families safe and healthy. 

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