image of adolescent brunette girl with glasses and a red and white striped shirt coughing while sitting at a table covered in books and notebooks.

Respiratory viruses and back-to-school

With schools and fall extracurriculars now in full swing, so too, is the spread of germs.

Currently, communities in the area are seeing an uptick in individuals with COVID-19 and the symptoms they’re exhibiting include anything from nothing at all or runny nose and cough to laryngitis, diarrhea and vomiting.

To stay well and reduce the number of cases, UTMB pediatrician Dr. Manuela Murray is encouraging individuals to follow what she’s calling “common sense” guidance.

“If you’re sick, don’t go out and contaminate everyone,” she said. “It’s OK to call in sick and miss work or school, you deserve to prioritize your health.”

For those testing positive, the official recommendation is to stay home for five days and then wear a mask for five days after that; however, Dr. Murray knows that’s not always going to happen, so to protect yourself and help diminish the spread of germs, she recommends traditional best-practices such as thorough, regular hand washing and of course covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough.

COVID Boosters, Flu shots and RSV

For individuals interested in COVID vaccines, a booster will be available later this fall to offer some additional protection.

“The COVID booster is similar to the flu shot in that the original vaccine is updated to offer protection against current variants for each respective virus, and you can get them at the same time,” says Murray, who mentioned a two-in-one combo flu and COVID vaccine may be a possibility in the future.

It’s typically recommended to get your flu shots by the end of October each year; however, earlier occurrences and waves of the flu have been documented in recent years, so talk with your health care provider about what’s right for you and your family.

Typically designated from October to April, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) season – which overlaps with flu season – is also on the horizon. A virus that can be particularly detrimental to babies and the elderly, RSV can cause infected individuals to experience extremely low oxygen levels and dehydration, which can sometimes lead to hospitalization or death.

“From my personal experience, being a mom and a pediatrician, the only time in my life that I have actually been scared about one of my kids being sick was when my oldest daughter had RSV when she was five months old ,and she wasn't even the sickest of all the patients I have ever seen,” says Murray to help put into perspective the severity of the illness.

Unlike the flu and COVID-19, medications or vaccines for RSV have not traditionally been readily available; however, that should be changing soon, as newly approved injections and vaccines are slated to become available more widely throughout the fall for certain vulnerable groups, including those 60 years of age and older, women at 32 to 36 weeks of pregnancy and any baby (full or pre-term) born or less than eight months old going into their first RSV season.

More information on the budding offerings will be shared once available, but in the meantime, it’s advised to direct any questions to your health care team.

Prioritize your health, no matter the season

Ultimately, going into this busy time of year, it’s important to keep your health top of mind. From getting enough sleep, to ensuring the foods you’re consuming are nutrient dense, there’s lots of steps you and your loved ones can take to stay well.

This downloadable back-to-school action plan is one way to be an active participant in prioritizing your health.

Additionally, more resources are available on the UTMB Health back-to-school webpage.

View Taylor Little's profile

Dr. Manuela Murray is an assistant professor and provider with the Department of Pediatrics.

UTMB Health Pediatric Primary Care, Bay Colony