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October 27, 2023

Protect Yourself From Respiratory Illness

ThedaCare Provider Recommends Getting Vaccinations Now

Cases of influenza, a respiratory virus commonly referred to as “the flu,” are on the rise nationally. Cases of Covid are also up as well.

“The numbers of people becoming infected with Covid or the flu are on the rise here in our local area,” said Zachary J. Baeseman, MD, MPH, FAAFP, Associate Chief Medical Officer, and family medicine physician with ThedaCare. “Our best advice is for anyone 6 months of age or older to get both a flu shot and the latest Covid vaccine as soon as possible.”

He noted that while both diseases have similar symptoms, different viruses cause them, thus two different vaccines are needed to provide protection. He added that it is okay to get both the flu and Covid vaccinations at the same time.

He also noted that as of this year, those with egg allergies are cleared to receive the regular flu vaccine. Dr. Baeseman added that all vaccines should be given in a place where allergic reactions can be recognized and treated quickly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the flu vaccine by October to gain the best protection for the flu season, which typically runs from October through early spring in Wisconsin.

This year’s flu vaccine targets the newest strains of that respiratory virus currently in circulation. The latest Covid vaccine, made by Pfizer and Moderna, attacks a subvariant of omicron, called XBB.1.5, which is responsible for more than 90% of current cases, according to the CDC.

“The flu can be a serious illness, especially for the very young, the very old, those with chronic health conditions and pregnant women,” Dr. Baeseman noted. “That’s because those groups run the highest risk of developing a complication from the illness. Those same groups also face the greatest risk of complications from Covid.”  

Both the flu and Covid viruses are spread between people via small and large droplets that are expelled when infected people sneeze, cough, talk, laugh, sing or yell. The droplets can linger in the air in indoor areas with poor ventilation. Shaking hands with people who are ill or touching surfaces where the virus is present can also infect people.

In the case of both illnesses, people can spread the virus before the onset of symptoms, Dr. Baeseman said, which makes transmission harder to determine. He noted that Covid is generally more contagious than the flu and is often transmitted during “super spreader” events such as weddings, funerals or large social gatherings. People with Covid may take longer to show symptoms and may be contagious longer after infection.

“The best advice for avoiding these diseases is to get vaccinated against both, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask in public places if you’re comfortable doing so, and avoid large crowds when local infection rates are high,” Dr. Baeseman said. “You should also stay home if you’re not feeling well.”  

He noted that symptoms of the flu and Covid are similar, and typically include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/having chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (more frequent in children with flu, but can occur in any age with Covid)
  • Change in or loss of taste or smell, although this is more frequent with Covid

Likewise, both diseases can result in serious complications, including

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in the lungs)
  • Sepsis 
  • Cardiac issues (for example, heart attacks and stroke)
  • Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions involving the lungs, heart, or nervous system, or diabetes
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues

“The flu and Covid both can cause serious complications and death, especially for those in high-risk categories,” Dr. Baeseman said. “These are not illnesses to take lightly. It just makes sense that getting vaccinated against both viruses is the best way to protect yourself and those you love.”

What to Know about RSV

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common illness that causes infection of the lungs and respiratory tract. In adults as well as older, healthy children, RSV symptoms are mild and typically mimic the common cold. Certain groups, however, are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill. These include infants and some older adults.

To help protect these vulnerable populations, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved an RSV vaccine, and recommend the following guidelines:

  • Babies ages 8 months and younger should receive the vaccine. In addition, doctors may recommend the vaccine for some older babies at increased risk for becoming seriously ill from RSV. This group would typically include babies between the ages of 8 months and 19 months. The nationwide rollout of the immunization, Beyfortus, has hit roadblocks. ThedaCare will provide an update when the immunization for infants becomes available.
  • To maximize protection for babies after birth, the CDC recommends seasonal administration of one dose of RSV vaccine for pregnant people during weeks 32 through 36 of pregnancy. The vaccine is recommended for people who fall into that group during RSV season — which can vary but typically runs between September and January. Individuals in this group should ask their physician about getting vaccinated.
  • Adults ages 60 and older should ask their health care provider if they should receive the vaccine. Those eligible between the ages of 60 and 65 can receive the vaccine at their primary care clinic. Those 65 and older who are on Medicare should receive the vaccine at a retail pharmacy because payment is covered through Medicare Part D.

Get more information about locations and scheduling options for Covid, flu and RSV vaccinations, as well as other types of vaccines.