What We Know About This Year’s Respiratory Virus Season
Find out more about the upcoming respiratory virus season in Vermont and ways you can protect yourself and your family through vaccination, hygiene, and healthy habits.
Vermont has many seasons, including our famous fall foliage and ski seasons, when we welcome visitors from across the country. But there’s another season that coincides with fall and winter where the visitors are uninvited and unwanted. In respiratory virus season, viruses travel from person to person and invade our homes, making us and our families ill.
Symptoms of respiratory viruses may include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
Respiratory virus season usually begins to ramp up in October, as the cooler temperatures and shorter days bring more Vermonters inside. The drier indoor air increases the chance of viruses being transmitted. Gatherings where people are talking and close to each other, such as Halloween parties and Thanksgiving dinners, also give viruses opportunity to circulate. By the time December’s holiday celebrations roll around, respiratory virus season is in full swing, and it often lasts until spring.
What will happen during the upcoming respiratory virus season? How can you protect yourself and your family from getting sick? Let’s take a closer look at what we know so far.
Recapping Last Season
The last respiratory virus season got off to a fast start in Vermont. By early November 2022, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was causing a surge in cases among children and straining our health care system. Admissions to the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital due to RSV were triple the usual numbers in the fall.
Levels of influenza increased as well, adding to the burden. There were 65 flu outbreaks reported to the Vermont Department of Health during the season, mostly in schools. Activity peaked in December 2022, with outbreaks reported in nine of Vermont’s 14 counties, and outbreaks continued into January.
This Season’s Outlook
The upcoming respiratory disease season will likely have a similar number of hospitalizations as last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts in its respiratory disease season outlook.
- There will likely be a moderate wave of COVID-19 cases this season. Infections could peak earlier than last season. There is widespread immunity to COVID-19 from vaccinations and prior infections, the CDC points out, making it unlikely a very large number of new cases will occur this season.
- Influenza will probably be in the typical range of severity. Influenza’s spread in the Southern Hemisphere during their winter (our summer months) is an indicator of what’s to come. Influenza there peaked earlier than normal, but the flu vaccine performed well against the viruses in circulation. People who received the vaccine were half as likely to be hospitalized with flu, compared to people who had not been vaccinated. Because U.S. flu vaccines for the upcoming season are similar to those used in the Southern Hemisphere, our vaccines could provide similar protection if the same viruses spread here, the CDC says.
- RSV is likely to return to normal season patterns, following a severe season last year. RSV immunity has returned to typical levels and there are new shots available for older people and infants, which could decrease the number of RSV hospitalizations this season, the CDC points out.
What You Can Do
Even an average respiratory virus season can be difficult, with thousands of Vermonters getting sick and our healthcare system being strained. Taking action beforehand is the best way to protect yourself and your family this season.
“In the face of the impending respiratory disease season, it's important to arm ourselves with preventive measures,” says Tom Weigel, MD, Blue Cross Vermont’s chief medical officer. “Vaccination against influenza, COVID-19, and RSV, coupled with good hygiene and healthy habits, will be our strongest allies in ensuring the well-being of our community.”
Here are the specific steps you can take:
- Get vaccinated against influenza. This season’s flu vaccine is available for anyone ages six months and older. A high-dose flu vaccine is available for adults 65 and older. Ideally, you should get your flu shot in September or October, before flu activity increases, but it will still be beneficial if you get it later in the season. Flu shots are free for our members.
- Update your COVID-19 vaccination. An updated version of the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved, which offers protection against recent variants of the virus. The CDC recommends everyone six months and older, who has not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the past two months, get the updated shot. COVID-19 vaccinations are covered at no cost to members.
- Consider vaccination against RSV. If you are age 60 or older, talk with your doctor about getting one of the two recently-approved RSV vaccines that are now available. Your doctor can help you understand your personal risk from RSV infection and the benefits of vaccination. Likewise, if you have an infant eight months or younger, talk with your pediatrician about getting your child immunized against RSV. A vaccine has also been approved for pregnant people to help protect their newborn from RSV after birth.
- Practice good hygiene. Flu and other respiratory viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people cough, sneeze, or talk. Droplets containing viruses then contact other people and surfaces. You can protect yourself by washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles and light switches.
- Have healthy habits. You’ll be more able to fight off respiratory virus infection if you are in good health to begin with. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, stay physically active (especially during the winter), practice stress management, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy meals.
We hope that you and your family will stay healthy this respiratory virus season. If you do get sick, please stay home from work or school and social gatherings to help prevent spreading the virus to other people. Remember to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with other people so that they don’t also get sick.