Path for parents seeking to navigate influenza, COVID-19, and RSV this winter


Coping with the challenges of parenting can become more stressful for those concerned about influenza, COVID-19, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). In the U.S., there has been an increase in cases this season. Consequently, many parents have sought effective preventive measures and safety guidelines. The situation is complicated since influenza, COVID-19, and RSV can mimic one another, so knowing which symptoms align with which illness can help parents.
Dr. Christopher Pierce, the interim chair of paediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has been outlining insights on managing these three illnesses. Pierce is also the Chief of General Pediatrics at Carilion Children’s.
In a statement to Digital Journal, Pierce observes: “This year, doctors are currently seeing high numbers of flu, and this started a bit earlier than historically. Yearly flu vaccines are needed to give our immune systems a “reminder” of how to fight the flu, there is some added immunity that repeat exposure plays as well.”
The prevalence of influenza among children decreased during COVID-19, but it has increased over the past two years, which Pierce attributes to the heightened exposure to COVID-19 during that period.
Hence, such disease patterns are complex phenomena shaped by the interplay of population contact patterns, virus survival and host immunity.
He observes: “There was minimal influenza activity from spring 2020 through early summer 2022, which was a direct result of masking and social distancing.”
Pierce notes that RSV is still prominent but has it has also begun a decline. Pierce calculates: “RSV is more difficult to track as it is not reportable as are Flu and COVID, which means there is not a good way to keep track of these numbers.”
Pierce advises parents to assess key indicators to assess the severity of their child’s illness. He recommends parents should look for rapid breathing, using accessory muscles such as “tummy breathing” or “head bobbing.” If older children are complaining of not breathing well, this should warrant an emergent evaluation.
Pierce further advises parents to watch their children’s level of alertness and fluid intake. Pierce stresses that reaching out to the primary care provider is the safest way to evaluate a child’s level of illness and get the best care.
The leading piece of advice from Pierce is for parents and their children to get the flu vaccine. He states: “It is the safest and most effective way to prevent the risk of hospitalization and death from influenza.”

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