By Colleen Matulaitis, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, Care Manager
Most of us know that the winter of 2023-2024 has been a challenge with the number of respiratory viruses affecting our population. COVID-19, the Flu, and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) are the three main viruses of concern. Individually, these can be challenging for compromised individuals, but in combination, it makes for severe illness.
Knowing what is causing your symptoms is essential, so getting a proper diagnosis is very important. Many primary care offices and Urgent Care Centers can test for these viruses. In healthy individuals with mild cold symptoms, the most important thing to do is isolate and wear an N95 mask in public. You can use over-the-counter (OTC) medications with mild cold symptoms as needed. These medications help reduce fever, ease muscle aches, suppress cough and congestion, and boost the immune system. Always check with your doctor if you are taking prescription medication to avoid drug interactions. People with high blood pressure or heart disease need to avoid certain OTC medications. When in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
The CDC guidelines for COVID-19 can be found on their website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/isolation.html. These guidelines can be used for all three viruses and are generally good practice. If you are sick, i.e., running a fever, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, etc., stay home and monitor your symptoms. If you are at high risk due to other medical conditions, extremely young or elderly, call your doctor for advice. It is best to wait 24 to 48 hours before doing a home Covid test since there is a large false negative result if you test too soon. If a close contact or person in your household is positive and you have similar symptoms, assume you are positive regardless of a negative test.
For high-risk individuals, like people with diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disease, and compromised immune systems, there are antiviral medications that can be prescribed for COVID-19 and the Flu. Some treatments and medications are available to treat more severe cases of RSV. Please remember that these medications are not without risks/side effects. It is always best to consult a healthcare provider who can consider your health concerns when prescribing treatments, someone who knows your current health and health history. Most of these vaccines are well tolerated, but there are side effects, and you should make an informed decision.
The most important takeaway for any illness is to use common sense. If you are sick, especially running a fever (101.4 or greater), stay home and monitor your symptoms. Avoid contact with others, wash your hands frequently, and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and have mild symptoms that improve quickly, you may return to normal activities after five days. It is recommended that you wear a mask for another five days. If your symptoms are more severe and last longer than a few days, contact your doctor or urgent care for a proper diagnosis. For more severe symptoms, isolate for 10 to 14 days or longer if symptoms are not improving.
Please check out the CDC’s website for more in-depth instructions on the above viruses and use good common sense. Stay well.