Health officials monitoring 3 respiratory viruses as flu season is here

Illinois — The Illinois Department of Public Health is encouraging all Illinois residents to immunize themselves against respiratory viruses including COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus as cold and flu season begins.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Illinois was down at the end of September, with only 566 in the entire state.

However, health departments continue to watch data on the virus, as well as RSV and the flu, carefully.

“I am happy to report that all Illinois counties are at a low level for COVID-19 hospitalizations,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said. “However, we are beginning to see an increase in RSV activity, which will likely be followed by flu and COVID-19 over the coming weeks and months.

“Protecting yourself and your loved ones now will ensure protection throughout the fall/winter respiratory virus season. We are fortunate to have tools this season to protect Illinois residents from COVID-19, flu and RSV.”

As of September, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended everyone older than 6 months receive the newest version of the COVID-19 vaccines, which has been formulated to combat the newest circulating variants of the virus.

The IDPH emphasized that studies have consistently shown that vaccines lower the risk of getting symptomatic COVID-19 and improve protection against serious illness, which can result in hospitalization or death for those who contract the virus.

The vaccines are completely covered by most insurance plans as preventive care, and many local health clinics and pharmacies offer free shots to those who are uninsured, the IDPH said. The health department also has established a mobile response team to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations for residents of Illinois’ long-term care facilities.

In addition to the updated COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC continues to recommend annual flu shots for everyone 6 months and older, which it began endorsing in 2010.

The newly approved shots are considered safe when given at the same time as other vaccines for the flu and RSV, the IDPH said.

The guidance for RSV vaccinations is more targeted, with the CDC in June recommending RSV vaccines for people 60 or older and for infants and high-risk toddlers. Infants younger than 8 months old are recommended to receive a new monoclonal antibody shot called nirsevimab, which studies have shown reduces RSV hospitalization among infants by 77%.

It also was recommended that pregnant people receive a dose of the RSV vaccine during weeks 32 to 36 of pregnancy to ensure immunity for newborns.

The vaccination recommendations are part of the CDC’s plan to avoid the high hospitalization rates experienced in 2022 because of the three highly contagious viruses.

The agency also recently launched a national respiratory virus dashboard that allows the public to track levels of COVID-19, flu and RSV in every state, while the federal government’s website provides information on how to obtain masks, treatment, vaccines and tests.

For the treatment of COVID-19, Illinoisans who experience symptoms can access no cost-share telehealth services through the SIU School of Medicine COVID Test to Treat services or call 217-545-5100.

Illinois has more than 200,000 courses of effective therapeutic medications, including Paxlovid and molnupiravir, available through providers and pharmacies that will continue to be provided for free until supplies run out, according to the IDPH.