How to protect yourself from the flu, RSV virus and covid-19 as fall arrives

While the sweltering heat doesn’t appear to be over yet, it will gradually cool down over the next few weeks and months.

With the cold comes certain seasonal viruses, including another possible wave of covid-19.

Doctors in the region have warned of a possible “triple pandemic” this fall, including influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and covid-19.

To combat these diseases, infectious disease experts recommend that people, especially the unvaccinated and at-risk groups, consider getting vaccinated to avoid serious illness.

Aside from the expected virus season, covid-19 infections have risen slightly this summer, including in north Texas, where hospitals have seen an increase in infections over the past month.

Also at the national level, covid-19 cases are rising, as reflected in July data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We’re nowhere near the peaks we’ve seen before, but we’re seeing more cases,” said Dr. James Cattrell, an infectious disease expert at the University of Texas Southwestern.

Here’s what you need to know about the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, updated vaccines, and other resources you can use to protect yourself from the virus this fall:

Covid-19 and new booster vaccines

Most current covid-19 cases belong to the XBB and XBB.1.5 subvariants, which are considered less severe than the original omicron variant.

Omicron appears in early 2022, causing chaos in hospitals across the country.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a booster vaccine designed to combat these variants, but authorization is still pending.

Unlike previous bivalent booster vaccines targeting the parental strain and the two infectious omicron subvariants, the new vaccine was made specifically for XBB, explained Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Also read: How to recognize symptoms between flu, covid-19, nile virus, flu virus or common cold

The new vaccine protects not only against the currently circulating XBB variant, but also against the EG.5 subvariant, another omicron offspring, Hotez added.

While it’s unclear when the updated Booster will launch, Hotez believes it will arrive in early fall.

“However, don’t be surprised if we start hearing about this by the end of August or the first week of September,” Hotez said.

Should I get the updated covid-19 booster vaccine?

While a surge in Covid-19 cases isn’t necessarily cause for panic, there are still resources available to protect yourself, Hotez said.

“(The number of cases) is still low, but it’s increasing and I’m afraid it will continue to increase, so people should take advantage of the XBB booster,” he said.

In particular, people at risk of serious complications should consider a newer covid-19 vaccine.

These include people over the age of 65, people with chronic heart and lung disease, people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women, and people living in nursing homes and nursing facilities.

Hotez said frequent travelers should also strongly consider the newer booster, given the high volume of air and train travel.

“I think it’s important to emphasize that the coronavirus is on the rise again and it’s good to have maximum protection for you,” he added, noting that people are still at risk of ongoing infection with the virus.

The previous booster shot prevented infection for two to three months and provided immunity against severe illness and hospitalization for four to six months.

So even if you received last year’s booster, it is recommended that you get a refresher this season, as immunity is waning.

If you’re still unsure whether to get a newer vaccine this fall, Cattrell recommends evaluating three criteria: whether you’re immunocompromised, the risk to those around you, and your own risk tolerance.

“This approach is not universal, but requires consideration of your own personal risk as well as those closest to you and those you interact with on a daily basis,” he said.

How is the RSV vaccine progressing?

Adults over the age of 60 can get the newly developed RSV vaccine.

Cutrell advises that people in this age group are considered to be at higher risk of hospitalization from RSV and should therefore consult their physicians before being treated for RSV.

The respiratory illness, which has rebounded earlier than normal this year and often looks like a cold to otherwise healthy people, can be fatal to the elderly and infants.

In addition, the FDA recently approved a drug called nirsevimab, which is not a vaccine but an injection of a monoclonal antibody.

While mRNA vaccines stimulate an immune response to produce antibodies, this vaccine bypasses that process and delivers antibodies directly to the infant, Hotez explained.

The CDC recommends that all infants younger than eight months receive a dose of nirsevimab this fall when the first RSV season begins.

Pregnant women are generally considered to be at higher risk of serious illness and may also receive RSV immunization to protect newborns.

The vaccine is still awaiting approval, but studies conducted by Pfizer concluded that it was 82 percent effective in preventing RSV in infants in their first few months of life.

“If a pregnant woman is immunized, some of these passive antibodies will be transferred to the baby before birth and protect the baby after birth,” Cattrell said.

Also read: 1 in 10 people have long-lasting coronavirus omicron variant, study shows

Should I get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu shot each season.

The flu started earlier than normal last year, and some experts think respiratory illnesses may follow a similar pattern this fall.

“COVID-19 has disrupted the timing of some other respiratory viruses, so we think the flu season has come a little earlier over the past few years,” Cattrell said.

Catrill recommends getting a flu shot in September or early October.

In addition, co-administration of the flu vaccine and the covid-19 vaccine is considered acceptable and safe.

“From a practical and logistical standpoint, a lot of times, it would be convenient for people who don’t see their doctor very often to have them in the same office,” he said.

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