As the country faces the triple threat of a rapidly growing number of cases of influenza, COVID-19 and Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), it’s extremely important that people get their flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine or booster now.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2022-2023 flu season may be the worst the country has seen in more than ten years. Additionally, the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are up more than 25% in the last two weeks. And while RSV cases are slowing down, the virus is still circulating around the country.
The so-called “tripledemic” is overwhelming hospitals across the country and experts report the problem could get worse as the number of coronavirus and influenza cases have risen since Thanksgiving. With the steady growth predicted to continue, this holiday season could see the number of sick people climb as people gather with friends and family.
The CDC estimates that so far this year there have been as many as 8.7 million cases of influenza including 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths. More than 99 million cases of COVID-19 have occurred in the U.S. and more than a million people have died since the pandemic began. Currently, the number of coronavirus cases is averaging almost 60,000 a day, with some 37,000 hospitalizations and nearly 350 deaths every day.
Influenza has not been a serious problem the last two years because of the masking, social distancing and other measures people took to protect themselves against COVID-19. The CDC is not a regulatory agency and does not impose mask mandates. However, its director, Rochelle Walensky, is encouraging everyone to wear masks again, especially on public transportation, in airports and on planes, while shopping and in other crowded public spaces to help prevent the spread of these respiratory illnesses.
GET YOUR VACCINE It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. The CDC is encouraging those who haven’t been vaccinated to get their shot now. It takes about two weeks for vaccines to protect against disease, so getting vaccinated now could protect people over the holidays.
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine with rare exceptions. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at higher risk of serious complications. Information on who is at risk is available here.
The CDC also recommends everyone 6 months and older should stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters if eligible. Find out how to stay up to date here. Find a vaccine or booster here. You can also text your ZIP code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233 to find COVID-19 vaccines near you.
With respiratory illnesses spreading, the American Red Cross is sharing this important reminder — it’s okay to give blood after getting a flu shot or a COVID-19 vaccine or booster. Learn more here.
FLU OR COVID? If you get sick, how do you know whether you have the flu or COVID-19?
There are more similarities between the two illnesses than differences, including their symptoms, making it difficult to know which virus you have. If you become sick, experts recommend that you call the doctor with your symptoms and begin to quarantine. A test may be necessary to determine which virus is making you ill.
Some of the differences are that COVID-19 spreads more easily and causes more serious illness in some people. If exposed to the coronavirus, it may take longer for you to show any symptoms and you can be contagious for a longer period of time.
The common signs of influenza are high fever, severe body aches, headache, being extremely tired, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and vomiting and/or diarrhea (which is more common in children). If you think you have the flu, call your health care provider. Seek immediate care if you have any of these symptoms:
- Fast breathing, trouble breathing or bluish skin color
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen (adults)
- Confusion or sudden dizziness
- Not drinking enough fluids, not being able to eat, or severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Not waking up, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held or not interacting (children)
- Fever with a rash (children)
- No tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal (children)
YOU CAN HELP STOP THE FLU FROM SPREADING
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
- Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
More information about how to help keep you and your loved ones protected from the flu is available on this website and in the free Red Cross First Aid app. See all the Red Cross apps at redcross.org/mobileapps.