Parents and health officials are bracing for what some are calling a “triple threat” to the health of children as the COVID-19 pandemic collides with the start of flu season and a surge of respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.
Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare pediatrician, Madeleine Gagnon, MD, says pediatric cases of COVID-19 around the nation are up about 240% and RSV began spreading around the U.S. earlier than in previous years. She believes the increase in illness is due to the masking requirements being relaxed, people not maintaining social distancing and not sanitizing their hands and surfaces as often.
“Kids are congregating in schools now and it’s important that every person does their part of keep their own children safe. This will help the greater community,” Gagnon says. “We don’t know the long-term effects of children getting COVID and as a pediatrician and the mother of 7-year-old twin boys I know the stress of trying to keep kids safe is exhausting.”
Gillette is focused on vaccines and education
Gillette is boosting efforts to make sure children who are medically fragile get a flu vaccination and is educating people about how to curb RSV and COVID-19.
“It’s very crucial for children to be vaccinated against influenza,” Gagnon says. “With the flu, COVID-19 and RSV in our environment this is a very serious problem, and we must take measures to keep ourselves and our children safe.”
A typical flu season in the U.S. starts by the end of October and RSV is usually a fall and winter virus. Health officials warn that this year RSV started spreading in the U.S. during the summer and COVID-19 continues to be a concern. All three illnesses affect the lungs and complications are more likely in infants, people over 65 and people with lung, heart or weakened immune conditions.
“COVID-19 and RSV are on the rise, and we anticipate an uptick in flu cases,” Gagnon cautions. “Children with underlying lung problems and low muscle tone have an even more challenging time fighting the flu. That’s why it’s especially important for these children to get a flu vaccine.”
Proper testing and diagnosis are crucial
The CDC describes groups at high risk for complications from the flu as “people who have neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.”
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend everyone six months of age or older get a flu shot every year. The CDC recommends people get an influenza vaccination in September or October which is before the start of peak flu season.
Gagnon says influenza, COVID-19 and RSV are all contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. “The symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are similar, and it is crucial for patients to get proper testing and a diagnosis so health providers can give the correct supportive care.“
Getting an influenza vaccine will not provide any extra protection against COVID-19. But being immunized can reduce the risk of having a strong case of the flu and needing to be hospitalized. According to the CDC, “a flu vaccine may also reduce the overall burden of respiratory illness.”
While not 100 percent foolproof, a flu vaccination is still the best protection against a serious case of influenza. Mask wearing, handwashing, avoiding close contact (if possible) with those who are sick can help protect you from illness.
“Mass vaccination against influenza is the key to protecting vulnerable people and to help shorten the severity and duration of the flu,” Gagnon adds. “It’s important to be good role models and to keep reminding children to use masks, keep their social distance and to frequently wash their hands. We all need to pull together to keep our children and community healthy.”
Please be sure to ask a Gillette health care provider for your free flu vaccine during your clinic appointment.
You can hear more from Gillette pediatrician, Madeleine Gagnon, MD, during her recent appearance on WCCO Radio.
For more tips on preventing the spread of COVID-19 please visit this page to get information from Gillete experts.