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Feeling sick after the holidays? Blame These Viruses

St. Joseph’s Medical Center warns cases of a new COVID-19 variant, flu and RSV are surging right now. 

With the holiday season behind us, many people across the U.S. and in San Joaquin County are starting the new year feeling under the weather. Holiday gatherings and an increase in travel may be to blame for the rise in cases of COVID-19, as well as the flu and RSV. So too are new variants and the seasonality of these viruses.

Wondering which virus you have? Or how to protect yourself from getting sick? Priyasheelta Nand, M.D., Infectious Disease Specialist with Touro University and affiliated with St. Joseph’s Medical Center, provides answers to common questions about these winter illnesses.

What is causing the rise in COVID-19 right now?

According to Dr. Nand, a new subvariant called JN.1 is the dominant variant of COVID-19 at this time. The variant was first detected in the U.S. in September and is now the most common variant to be circulating and making people sick. This variant evolved quickly, which may suggest that it is more transmissible or better at evading our immune systems than other variants.

Are symptoms of the new COVID-19 variant any different?

Symptoms of a COVID-19 infection caused by JN.1 are similar to those caused by previous variants of the virus. The most common symptoms include coughing, sore throat, runny nose, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches. The symptoms people may have, as well as how severe they are, usually depend more on their immunity and overall health than on which variant causes the infection.

How do you know if you have COVID-19, the flu or RSV?

Symptoms of these viruses are typically pretty similar, so it can be hard to know for sure which virus you have. The only definitive way to distinguish between COVID-19, the flu and RSV is by getting tested.

Symptoms of one of these respiratory illnesses include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, muscle aches, new loss of taste and/or smell, fatigue, headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

What to do if you have COVID-19, the flu or RSV?

COVID-19, the flu, and RSV are all respiratory viruses and you should limit your interaction with others, stay home from work, and avoid contact with those who might be at high risk.  Dr. Nand advises staying home for at least seven calendar days and being fever free for 24 hours before returning to work and your daily routine. 

Does the latest COVID-19 vaccine protect against the JN.1 variant?

The most recent COVID-19 vaccines, released in September of 2023, were designed to target the XBB.1.5 variant, which was the most dominant variant at the time. The current JN.1 variant is distantly related to XBB.1.5 but experts say that people who got the newest vaccine should still have some protection against JN.1. If you recently had COVID, you also have some protection against this new variant.

Is it too late to get an updated COVID-19 vaccine?

No, it is still recommended that you get the vaccine if you haven’t done so already. Dr. Nand suggests that everyone get vaccinated, especially if you are at higher risk of severe illness due to age or other health conditions. To date, only about 18 percent of adults have received the vaccine.

What are the best ways to protect yourself from getting sick?

In addition to getting the updated COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Nand recommends that everyone ages 6 months and up get an annual flu shot – it’s not too late to get one if you haven’t already done so. A new RSV vaccine is also recommended for adults aged 60 and older. There is also an RSV vaccine for infants and pregnant women, who may get the vaccine from 32 to 36 weeks of pregnancy to protect their babies from RSV after birth. In addition to vaccines, Dr. Nand recommends wearing masks, washing your hands often, improving ventilation indoors and staying away from people who are sick. 

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Date Last Reviewed: January 4, 2024

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