Doctors have seen an increase in respiratory illnesses as the holiday...

Doctors have seen an increase in respiratory illnesses as the holiday season approaches. Credit: Northwell Health/Marc Farb

'Tis the season … for upper respiratory viruses.

People across Long Island and all over the United States are falling ill from viruses, as flu cases start to rise and other common viruses take hold in the winter months. For some people, that means a few days of coughing, sniffles and aches, but for others, viruses can lead to serious breathing problems and other complications.

“We are definitely seeing a rise in all the common upper respiratory illnesses and expect that to continue through the holiday season due to travel, family gatherings and children being out of school,” said Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director at Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have been at least 2.6 million illnesses, 26,000 hospitalizations and 1,600 deaths from the flu this season. And surveillance for influenza-like illness also shows a rise in other viruses.

In New York, 10,680 lab-confirmed flu cases were reported as of Dec. 9, the latest data available Friday. That's far less than the 52,953 reported last year, but still more than double the 4,770 two years ago.

Here is what you need to know about respiratory viruses this winter, the impact on adults and children and how to protect yourself.

Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said so far this season, doctors have seen “normal patterns of respiratory illness,” a dramatic change from the RSV surge last year.

Harris said RSV cases seem to have peaked already while flu cases are rising. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are ticking up slowly but are much lower than this time last year.

But it’s not all flu, RSV or COVID-19. There are also adenovirus and parainfluenza, which can cause illnesses such as bronchitis and croup.

“There are dozens and dozens of viruses,” he said. “Most will give you an illness for seven to 10 days. It will be more severe in people who are immunocompromised, the very young and the elderly.”

“I have a lot of parents coming in with toddlers and young children concerned that they keep getting sick,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief of Huntington Village Pediatrics. “But young children can get nine to 12 viral illnesses every year, most of them during the fall and winter months.”

Meltzer-Krief said cold symptoms can last more than a week. Children may feel well for a few days and then catch the next cold virus circulating. She said this is especially prevalent in “children in day care and younger kids in school who don’t easily keep their germs to themselves.”

Many doctors encourage eligible people to get the COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines. People older than 65 also can get a higher-dose flu vaccine.

The importance of hand hygiene cannot be overstated, doctors said.

“It’s important to encourage children to try not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth, and to wash their hands before eating,” Meltzer-Krief said.

Harris pointed out that there are antiviral medicines for the flu and COVID-19, but not for the other viruses. The only treatment for those is supportive care, such as resting, drinking fluids, using saline sprays or pain relievers, if needed.

“Masks still work,” Shipley said. “Anyone who is immunocompromised or unvaccinated should take precautions whenever they are out in public.”

If you are breathing comfortably and able to eat and drink, you should be able to stay home and just call your doctor or hold a telehealth session for advice, Harris said.

Trips to urgent care centers and hospital emergency departments should be reserved for patients who are dehydrated or have trouble breathing.

Harris warned that some viruses can cause children to spike a fever of 104 or even 105.

“That is normal, expected and not dangerous,” he said. “Parents can treat their fevers as long as they improve and are eating and drinking.”

'Tis the season … for upper respiratory viruses.

People across Long Island and all over the United States are falling ill from viruses, as flu cases start to rise and other common viruses take hold in the winter months. For some people, that means a few days of coughing, sniffles and aches, but for others, viruses can lead to serious breathing problems and other complications.

“We are definitely seeing a rise in all the common upper respiratory illnesses and expect that to continue through the holiday season due to travel, family gatherings and children being out of school,” said Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director at Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there have been at least 2.6 million illnesses, 26,000 hospitalizations and 1,600 deaths from the flu this season. And surveillance for influenza-like illness also shows a rise in other viruses.

In New York, 10,680 lab-confirmed flu cases were reported as of Dec. 9, the latest data available Friday. That's far less than the 52,953 reported last year, but still more than double the 4,770 two years ago.

Here is what you need to know about respiratory viruses this winter, the impact on adults and children and how to protect yourself.

It seems like everyone is sick these days. What is going on?

Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said so far this season, doctors have seen “normal patterns of respiratory illness,” a dramatic change from the RSV surge last year.

Harris said RSV cases seem to have peaked already while flu cases are rising. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are ticking up slowly but are much lower than this time last year.

But it’s not all flu, RSV or COVID-19. There are also adenovirus and parainfluenza, which can cause illnesses such as bronchitis and croup.

“There are dozens and dozens of viruses,” he said. “Most will give you an illness for seven to 10 days. It will be more severe in people who are immunocompromised, the very young and the elderly.”

Why does my child keep getting sick even after recovery?

“I have a lot of parents coming in with toddlers and young children concerned that they keep getting sick,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief of Huntington Village Pediatrics. “But young children can get nine to 12 viral illnesses every year, most of them during the fall and winter months.”

Meltzer-Krief said cold symptoms can last more than a week. Children may feel well for a few days and then catch the next cold virus circulating. She said this is especially prevalent in “children in day care and younger kids in school who don’t easily keep their germs to themselves.”

What can I do to protect myself and my child?

Many doctors encourage eligible people to get the COVID-19, flu and RSV vaccines. People older than 65 also can get a higher-dose flu vaccine.

The importance of hand hygiene cannot be overstated, doctors said.

“It’s important to encourage children to try not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth, and to wash their hands before eating,” Meltzer-Krief said.

Harris pointed out that there are antiviral medicines for the flu and COVID-19, but not for the other viruses. The only treatment for those is supportive care, such as resting, drinking fluids, using saline sprays or pain relievers, if needed.

“Masks still work,” Shipley said. “Anyone who is immunocompromised or unvaccinated should take precautions whenever they are out in public.”

How do I decide between calling my doctors and going to urgent care or an emergency room when I’m sick?

If you are breathing comfortably and able to eat and drink, you should be able to stay home and just call your doctor or hold a telehealth session for advice, Harris said.

Trips to urgent care centers and hospital emergency departments should be reserved for patients who are dehydrated or have trouble breathing.

Harris warned that some viruses can cause children to spike a fever of 104 or even 105.

“That is normal, expected and not dangerous,” he said. “Parents can treat their fevers as long as they improve and are eating and drinking.”

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