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Will You Catch Flu, RSV, COVID or Strep this Winter?

Did you catch flu in the last several weeks? Did you get an influenza vaccine? Did it work? Have you caught any other respiratory infection?

Many Americans are starting the new year in bed with a nasty respiratory infection. The CDC’s FLUVIEW report shows influenza cases and hospitalizations are up from the previous week, so we are well into flu season now.  If your family doesn’t catch flu, possibly because you got an influenza vaccine, have been cautious or had good luck, that still doesn’t mean you are home free.

There are lots of other respiratory infections lurking all around you: RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), COVID-19, strep and pertussis (whooping cough). Let’s not forget the “common” cold which is actually caused by any one of hundreds of other viruses: rhinoviruses, adenoviruses and coronaviruses. There is also human metapneumovirus (our family caught HMPV last winter and it was nasty!). Whooping cough is also starting to resurface around the country.

The Anti-Vaccine Movement is Growing!

We have often written about disappointing results of influenza vaccines. Here are just a few articles where we have complained about flu shots:

What Should You Know About Vaccine Effectiveness?

Should You Be Rushing To Get Your Flu Shot?

Did This Year’s Flu Shot Work for Adults? NOPE!

Long Lasting Shoulder Pain After Flu Shot

We try to keep an open mind about vaccines, reporting on both the benefits and the risks. The VAERs (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) leaves a lot to be desired. This FDA/CDC initiative is supposed to be an early warning system to alert health professionals to unforeseen vaccine complications. How the data are analyzed and reported, however, is not as scientific as most people would like.

We Are NOT Anti-Vaccine!

I caught polio when I was two years old. That was a long time ago, before there was a polio vaccine.

Doctors had nothing to offer patients with polio when I was a child. Kids were dying all around me in the polio ward at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Others were in iron lungs. I was immobilized in traction with ropes and pulleys to stretch my paralyzed legs. I was often surrounded by alien beings in white coats and masks. There was not a lot of comfort or love in that polio ward.

Parents no longer have to watch children die from polio. Kids are not locked into iron lung machines to breathe. They do not have to wear braces on their legs to walk. Maybe you can tell that I am not an impartial observer when it comes to vaccines.

I worry that far too many Americans have become anti-vaxxers. Has that raised our risk of catching horrible infections like polio or whooping cough (pertussis)?

If You Don’t Catch Flu, What About Whooping Cough (Pertussis)?

By the way, I also caught whooping cough as a child. It was a killer in those days and it freaked my parents out, especially since my bout with polio was so traumatic for the family. But I was lucky. I did survive, though I still have PTSD when entering a hospital.

If I catch an upper respiratory tract infection, my cough still sounds like a whoop. I suspect permanent damage was done when I had pertussis as a child.

Sadly, many parents are no longer vaccinating their children against whooping cough and measles. Doctors call this vaccination hesitancy. As a result, childhood diseases that we thought had been pretty much eliminated are starting to recur.

Whooping Cough Is Popping Up Around the US:

As I write this at the start of 2024, I am sorry to report that pertussis cases are popping up in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado and Florida. I would be surprised if whooping cough doesn’t spread far and wide if children and adults are not vaccinated against pertussis.

Whooping cough is highly contagious. Babies are extremely vulnerable to this respiratory tract infection. About one half of the youngest children who catch this bug will end up in the hospital. Older children and adults can also get very sick from pertussis. Symptoms can linger for months.

What About COVID in 2024?

We know that you are tired of reading about COVID-19. No one wants to think about the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Only a tiny minority of people are wearing masks these days. And there are a lot of people who insist that masks 1) do not work, 2) make people more vulnerable to infection and 3) have terrible health consequences.

If you are one of those people and need an operation, try telling your surgeon, nurse and anesthetist not to wear a mask because they are “ineffective.” They will look at you like you are crazy. There is a reason why health personnel wear masks!

Back to COVID, though. As I write this the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting:

“COVID hospitalizations, deaths surge in California—and worse is yet to come…”

Eyewitness New ABC 7 provided this headline on January 3, 2024:

“Mask mandate resumes at all 11 New York City public hospitals amid rise in flu, COVID and RSV cases”

The latest variant, JN.1, is capable of infecting people who previously caught COVID. It can also get past COVID vaccinations. Wastewater surveillance suggests that we will continue to see a dramatic rise in cases over coming weeks. That’s because this early warning marker has been soaring in many places.

Sadly, we are likely to see more long COVID as a result of this new wave. When people catch COVID-19 for the second or third time they are more likely to develop long-lasting symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog. People who dismiss COVID reinfection as no worse than catching a cold have not spoken with anyone who is living with PASC (post-acute sequelae of COVID-19).

Did You Catch Flu or Something Else?

It is not surprising that a lot of people are suffering with upper respiratory tract infections. The holidays provided an ideal opportunity for germs to pass from one person to the next on planes, trains or automobiles. And then there were family get-togethers, parties and sporting events. Participating in these is good for our emotional health, but it may also offer an opportunity for pathogens to spread.

If you are sneezing, congested, coughing or just wiped out, did you catch flu, COVID or one of the cold viruses that could be circulating?

People who test positive for COVID, whether or not they have symptoms, should stay away from others for at least five days, health officials advise. The most common symptoms of the leading variant, JN.1, are sore throat, fever, runny nose and congestion, headache, cough, trouble breathing and brain fog.

People uncertain whether they have influenza or COVID-19 might consider using the Lucira home test. We’re not sure how consumers can now purchase this test, though. Amazon is reporting that it is “Currently unavailable.”

Respiratory syncytial virus is also surging. In most people, this infection causes coughs, sneezes, fever and wheezing. But for babies and elderly people, RSV can be deadly.

Doctors also report that they are seeing more strep infections. This bacterial infection is best known for causing sore throats rather than coughs or congestion. However, if left untreated, it might lead to complications. A prompt antibiotic prescription should speed healing from a strep infection. There are now at-home strep throat tests that allow parents to determine if a child or adult has caught this bacterial infection.

Final Words:

We hope you do not catch flu or any other infection this winter. If you do catch a cold or influenza, you may find our eGuide to Colds, Coughs & the Flu of some value. It can be found under the Health eGuides tab. If you have caught an upper respiratory tract infection, please share your experience in the comment section below. Let us know how you made out.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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