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Feeling sick after the holidays? Cases of new Covid-19 variant, flu and RSV surged in January

Dr. Chuck Merrill, the Chief Medical Officer at Marian Regional Medical Center, and Dr. Thomas Vendegna, the CMO at French Hospital Medical Center, say cases of a new Covid-19 variant, flu and RSV surged in January.

With the holiday season behind us, many people across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties started the new year feeling under the weather. Holiday gatherings and an increase in travel may have been 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? Dr. Chuck Merrill, the Chief Medical Officer at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, and Dr. Thomas Vendegna, the CMO at French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, can provide answers to common questions about these winter illnesses.

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

According to Dr. Merrill and Dr. Vendegna, 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.

Covid-19 test kits can be ordered from the U.S. government for free.

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.

Dignity Health Central Coast encourages those eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine to call their local pharmacy for an appointment or visit and register for the latest vaccine.

For additional information on the COVID-19 vaccine, we recommend reviewing the FAQs on the CDC website and FDA website.

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. Both Dr. Merrill and Dr. Vendegna suggest 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. Merrill and Dr. Vendegna recommend 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, wearing masks, washing your hands often, improving ventilation indoors and staying away from people who are sick can also help protect you from getting infected..

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Date Last Reviewed: January 4, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

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