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Health officials brace for surge of respiratory illnesses

Health officials gear up for post-holiday surge of respiratory illnesses
Health officials gear up for post-holiday surge of respiratory illnesses 02:38

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Public health officials are bracing for what could become yet another post-Thanksgiving surge of respiratory illnesses. A potential perfect storm of three viruses: COVID-19, the flu and RSV.

Be on the lookout for early symptoms. Doctors say there are effective treatments for two of the three viruses. Also, if you feel sick stay home.

It was a Thanksgiving weekend of gatherings, including big crowds, shopping and jammed airports. All this togetherness has doctors worried about a potential spike in respiratory illnesses that are circulating and spread easily from person to person.

COVID-19 doesn't appear to be causing serious illness now, but RSV and the flu are.

"The predominant flu A strain this year is the one that can cause severe illness in children and the elderly, and we saw that play out in the Southern Hemisphere countries," emergency department physician Dr. Michael Daignault said.

Doctors say it's important to be up to date with vaccinations for COVID-19 and influenza. There are tests for both but not RSV, which can be especially dangerous for young children and the elderly.

"There are things you can do with RSV, is avoid congregate settings, and particularly, if you have a cold or are sneezing, stay home, wear a mask, wash your hands," Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

Doctors say it will take three to five days to know if there will be a post-Thanksgiving spike in illnesses.

Jimmy Sheffield, who flew to spend the holiday with this brother, hopes he's avoided being infected.

"For me, it's very important. I don't do nothing to chance without the mask. I have to eat, but other than that, I put the mask on," Sheffield said.

Doctors say people who feel sick should test because there are treatments for flu and COVID-19 that If taken early can prevent serious illness.

"For influenza, it's Tamiflu. For COVID, of course, it's Paxlovid. If you're older or immune compromised. Tamiflu can pretty much work for all age groups," UCSF infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Chin Hong said. 

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