Amid the fall and winter seasons — and with them, the season for flu and other respiratory viruses — the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department urges people to get their updated vaccines.
Public Health Director Dr. Mouhanad Hammami said people most at risk of getting sick from respiratory viruses include infants and children under age 5, older adults, immunocompromised people, pregnant women, people with disabilities and people with underlying conditions.
COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) share similar symptoms, such as coughing, a sore throat, muscle or body aches, a runny or stuffy nose, fatigue and more, but some distinct symptoms include a decrease in appetite and wheezing for RSV, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing and new loss of taste or smell for COVID-19.
Hammami and Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg said flu season in the county is typically November through April, so they recommended getting the flu vaccine no later than October.
The two Public Health officials also recommended getting the COVID-19 vaccine or booster no later than October, especially with the updated booster dose available to target new variants.
Antiviral treatments and supportive care are available to treat symptoms of both the flu and COVID-19.
For RSV, passive immunoglobin shots are available for infants younger than 8 months, and the vaccine is recommended for adults older than 60 years old and pregnant women between 32 and 36 weeks. Hammami said late October is the best time for those populations to get the RSV vaccine.
He also said there is no antiviral treatment for RSV, but supportive care can help treat symptoms.
“There have been questions about, can you take all the vaccines together? The answer is yes,” Hammami said. “Early on, when we started giving COVID [vaccines], there was a recommendation that we wait 14 days, but now it is no longer needed, so you can take the flu and the COVID [vaccines] on the same day, unless you don’t want to do it because you might feel a little bit sore or you might have some reactions.”
Other ways to prevent getting sick or spreading viruses include frequent handwashing, wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, staying home when sick and keeping away from others, and testing for the virus when experiencing symptoms.
The federal government is again offering free at-home antigen COVID-19 tests to all households in the United States through the U.S. Postal Service.
People can order the tests at COVIDTests.gov, which also provides information on where to buy tests or get tested sooner, what to do in case of a positive test, and more.
The tests are limited to one order per residential address and include four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests.
The website states that orders will ship for free through USPS starting next week.
According to the county’s data dashboard and state tracking data, 13 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 23 intensive-care unit beds were available in Santa Barbara County as of Sept. 16, and the county’s hospital admission level is low.
The state’s seven-day test positivity rate for COVID-19 is 11% as of Sept. 15.