DPH: Parents should be aware of respiratory illnesses this fall

A flu vaccine is seen on a counter at a CVS clinic in San Francisco, California Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

A flu vaccine is seen on a counter at a CVS clinic in San Francisco, California Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

The Connecticut Department of Public Health and other state pediatric providers are reminding parents to be aware of respiratory viruses in children this fall.

DPH, along with Connecticut Children’s and Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, said parents should take precautions against COVID-19 and influenza such as respiratory syncytial virus—also known as RSV — with colder months ahead this year.

RSV causes 2.1 million outpatient visits and 58,000 hospitalizations annually in children under age 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have seen more RSV infections at Connecticut Children’s than usual for this time of year. ... This is likely because safety measures relaxed over the summer and people started getting together again. Similar to COVID-19 and the flu, RSV spreads very easily through mouth and nose droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. It can also survive on surfaces, infecting someone who touches a contaminated surface,” said Dr. Juan Salazar, physician-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s and a pediatric infectious disease specialist, in a press release.

Dr. Thomas Murray, director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hosptial, said that RSV usually causes mild symptoms such as sore through, stuffed up nose, cough and headache, but it can be fairly serious in infants.

“Since infants have to breathe through their nose, RSV is especially dangerous for them. RSV can cause bronchiolitis or pneumonia and usually lasts for a week, although more serious cases last longer,” Murry said in the release.

The spread of respiratory viruses such as RSV may be prevented by thorough hand washing, masking, avoiding crowds and social distancing.

But influenza and COVID-19, vaccines are the best way to protect oneself. Additionally, experts said both vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

With flu activity set to increase across the state, now is also the time to get a flu shot, and a COVID-19 shot as well, if still needed, experts said.

The CDC recommends getting a flu shot by the end of October. Flu and COVID-19 vaccinations can be given at the same visit, which can save a trip to get vaccinated and save vaccine recipients from an additional round of arm soreness, the release said.

“With high COVID-19 vaccination rates among people in our state eligible for the vaccine, Connecticut hasn’t had the large increases in childhood hospitalizations due to COVID-19 that some lesser-vaccinated states have experienced,” said DPH Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani in the release. “Nationally, states with lower vaccination coverage have seen more emergency department visits and hospital admissions among children. Vaccination not only protects you, it protects the people around you.”

Experts advised parents to check with their healthcare provider or pharmacy to see if the flu vaccine is available at their location.

For a listing of local health department flu clinics, click here or search “Flue vaccination clinics” on portal.ct.gov. To find a nearby pharmacy, visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder at https://www.vaccines.gov/.