RICHMOND, VA – The Richmond Ambulance Authority joined the Virginia healthcare community in encouraging Virginians who haven’t done so to get vaccinated against the flu, get vaccinated or boosted against COVID-19, and to take personal health and safety precautions as we enter what could be a particularly intense flu and respiratory illness season. This year’s flu season is already showing early, concerning signs that it may be worse than in recent years. There are also increasing numbers of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases, which may cause serious illness and hospitalization in children and older adults. If these trends continue, this could strain healthcare systems in some communities. Virginia doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers are already being inundated with a surge of sick patients seeking care, filling hospital beds, and in many cases requiring longer hospital stays.
Data from Virginia hospitals and public health surveillance information from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) suggest that the Commonwealth faces the prospect of a particularly challenging flu and respiratory disease season throughout this fall and winter. Emergency department and urgent care clinic visits involving patient diagnoses of RSV have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly elevated. Visits for flu-like illness are also rising – for the week ending November 5, such visits are at least four times higher than in the same week for each of the past four years. In Virginia, we have seen a 41 percent increase in flu-like illness and an overall 18 percent increase in respiratory illness from the week prior. Virginia Immunization Information System data from July 1-November 9, 2022 indicates that flu vaccination uptake in children younger than 12 is lower this year as compared to the same time periods during the previous three years.
These conditions are occurring even as COVID-19 remains a significant concern – the federal public health emergency regarding coronavirus was recently extended and Virginia hospitals continue to treat an average of 478 hospital inpatients each day. The continued presence of COVID-19 combined with the rapid spread of flu and other respiratory illness poses a heightened risk of developing medical complications from COVID-19 or the flu among older Virginians, individuals with weakened immune systems or other medical conditions, and younger children.
The holiday season is just around the corner. To protect yourself and your family against flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses, the healthcare community recommends taking the following steps:
- Make an appointment to get a flu shot as soon as possible. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that “everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.” Flu shots are available at doctor’s offices, commercial pharmacies, local health districts, and community health clinics, among other locations. Find out where you can get a flu shot in your community here.
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have not done so already. Get boosted if you have been vaccinated but it has been at least two months since your last vaccine dose . Bivalent booster doses are available for vaccinated individuals 5 and older. VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Find out where you can get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster in your community by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) VAX-IN-VA or (877) 829-4682.
- Parents of sick children are encouraged to keep them home from school and other activities to help limit the spread of infection. Parents with sick children are also advised to initially contact a pediatrician or family physician for medical guidance unless your child is in medical distress, in which case seeking hospital care may be warranted. Taking this approach helps ensure that hospital beds and emergency departments are open and available to patients with critical medical needs.
- Adults who become ill are also encouraged to stay home to limit the risk of spreading illness and to contact their healthcare provider for guidance on the appropriate course of treatment depending on the severity of symptoms and other risk factors.
- Individuals with symptoms, or those who test positive, are encouraged to contact their healthcare providers to determine the treatment option that is right for them. This is especially true for high-risk individuals. Because treatment is often most effective when taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, people are advised not to delay seeking medical advice and starting prescribed treatment. It is also important to remember that prescriptions such as antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are typically not appropriate or indicated for treating viral infections like flu and RSV.
- As a routine safety behavior, Virginians are encouraged to wash their hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, to avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, to limit the time children spend in large group settings with other contagious individuals when possible, and to get tested if they believe they have been exposed to illness.
With respiratory illness and related hospitalizations on the rise in Virginia, getting vaccinated, taking basic health and safety steps, and seeking appropriate medical care and guidance if you become sick, are simple ways to help you and your family stay safe and healthy this holiday season.
In addition to the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, the following organizations and institutions endorse this statement: Access Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics – Virginia Chapter, Ballad Health, Bon Secours Richmond and Hampton Roads, Carilion Clinic, Centra Health System, Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, HCA Virginia, LewisGale Hospital – Alleghany, LewisGale Medical Center, LewisGale Hospital – Montgomery, LewisGale Hospital – Pulaski, Mary Washington Healthcare, the Medical Society of Virginia, the Richmond Academy of Medicine, the Richmond Ambulance Authority, Riverside Health System, Sentara Healthcare, UVA Health, Valley Health System, the Virginia Academy of Physician Assistants, the Virginia Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, the Virginia Association of Community-Based Providers, the Virginia Association of Nurse Anesthetists, the Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Virginia College of Emergency Physicians, the Virginia Council of Nurse Practitioners, VCU Health, the Virginia Health Care Association-Virginia Center for Assisted Living, the Virginia Health Care Foundation, VHC Health, the Virginia Network of Private Providers, the Virginia Nurses Association, the Virginia Orthopaedic Society, the Virginia Pharmacists Association, the Virginia Podiatric Medical Association, the Virginia Public Health Association, Virginia Rural Health Association, and the Virginia Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.