SALT LAKE CITY (Good Things Utah) — COVID-19, influenza, and RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus are three respiratory viruses that can range from mild, cold-like symptoms to extreme risk to hospitalization and even an individual’s life. All three are in wide circulation in Utah right now.

More children in Utah and throughout the Intermountain West are requiring advanced pediatric and critical care, as well as longer hospitalization times, straining resources at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, as well adults needing hospital care at Intermountain Healthcare hospitals across Utah.

For each of the past three weeks, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital has rescheduled approximately 50 pre-scheduled, non-emergency procedures and surgeries that would require an inpatient stay to help free up beds and caregivers needed to help the surge of sick children.

In light of these situations, Intermountain Healthcare experts are urging people to get their influenza vaccine and COVID boosters. When treatment options become limited, prevention with vaccines is the best way for people to protect themselves, reducing infections, and lowering the risk of severe complications, such as hospitalization.

“Fortunately, individuals can protect themselves and their families from two of these through vaccinations,” said Dr. Tamara Sheffield, MD, medical director for preventive medicine at Intermountain Healthcare. “Influenza vaccines – or flu shots – as well as COVID boosters, are easily accessible from your doctor’s office, local health department, or pharmacy.”

In addition to the unprecedented pediatric surge in RSV, influenza cases are rising sharply and causing severe respiratory illness in children and adults. COVID infections also continue to require acute care for some patients.

Physicians in Utah and across the nation are alarmed by the limitations in treatment options. Monoclonal antibodies are no longer effective against circulating strains of the COVID-19 virus, and the CDC issued guidance yesterday to prioritize antiviral treatments against influenza, which are in dwindling supply nationally. There have been shortages of children’s antiviral medications leading to a reformulation of adult doses, potentially adding additional strain on those supplies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved an updated bivalent vaccine for COVID that adds Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 components to the vaccine to increase protection against newer variants that are currently circulating in our communities. 

“COVID-19 remains prevalent in our communities,” said Dr. Sheffield. “The CDC recommends that everyone five and older receive one updated bivalent booster if it has been at least two months since their last COVID-19 vaccine dose.”

“It is also important to get your annual influenza vaccination or flu shot,” said Dr. Sheffield. “The flu vaccine is the best way to defend against the flu virus each year. It not only reduces your chance of getting sick from the flu but can minimize the severity of your symptoms if you do get it.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a vaccine currently for RSV, although they are working on one,” said Dr. Sheffield. “However, you can take the same steps to help minimize the spread of all three viruses.”

Dr. Sheffield and other health experts suggest the following:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover coughs with an elbow or tissue.
  • Use a disposable tissue once and throw it away, followed by a good hand washing.
  • Stay home when you are sick to prevent spread to others.

“Good healthy habits like getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet also help improve our health and aid in overcoming illnesses,” said Dr. Sheffield.

Dr. Sheffield said you can ask your doctor or pharmacists which vaccines are right for you. “And don’t forget you can get your flu vaccination at the same time as your COVID booster.”

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