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With respiratory virus season in full swing here’s how to stay healthy

With respiratory virus season in full swing here’s how to stay healthy

Parkland Health experts offer tips on avoiding illness this winter

While temperatures are fluctuating from cold to warm and back to cold, the likelihood of catching a respiratory virus this time of year remains steady. Whether it is a common cold, the latest COVID variant, JN.1, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or the flu, there’s plenty of bugs going around. However, there are steps you can take to keep you and your family healthy this winter.

While these illnesses have a few things in common – all are contagious respiratory viruses and have similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to know exactly what’s making a person sick – symptoms of RSV and the common cold tend to appear more gradually, while flu symptoms show up abruptly. Common symptoms they share are fatigue, cough, stuffy nose and a sore throat. As for the latest COVID variant, symptoms are like that of a cold, but can also include headache and diarrhea.

“With both cold and flu symptoms, you’re likely to feel fatigued, have a runny nose and experience a cough,” said Cristina Tamez, MD, a pediatrician at Parkland Health. “Though, with the flu those symptoms will appear rather quickly, and you’ll likely have a fever, while a fever is much less common with a cold.”

For those with a chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, COVID and flu infections can cause severe illness and complications, such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, cardiac injury, multiple organ failure and more. Additionally, babies, young children and older adults are also at increased risk of severe complications from the flu and RSV that can lead to hospitalization.

To help reduce your risk of catching or spreading illness, it’s important to take necessary precautions. “Those important habits we spoke about often during the early days of the pandemic still apply today,” said Joseph Chang, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Parkland. “Hand washing, avoiding large crowds, staying home when you’re sick and getting vaccinated are the best practices you can implement to stay healthy.”

With flu season carrying well into spring there is still time to get vaccinated, as Texas often sees the highest volume of flu activity in February according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The flu vaccine is recommended annually for anyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women. Additionally, the CDC also reports that the latest version of the COVID vaccine offers protection against severe complications from the JN.1 variant.

Patients of all ages can visit Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care health centers (COPCs) for a flu shot at no cost to you, with no appointment necessary. To avoid a wait, Wednesdays are recommended. During Walk-In Wednesdays, a staff dedicated only to providing flu shots is available from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m.

For protection against severe RSV, vaccines are available to adults 60 and older, as well as pregnant women between 32-36 weeks gestation to protect their infant after birth.

“Getting vaccinated is an easy way to protect you and those you love,” Dr. Chang said. “This is one of the best tools we have to try to prevent infection."

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