How to navigate through this year’s upper respiratory infection season

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 1:32 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (MAYO CLINIC HEALTH SYSTEM PRESS RELEASE) - Respiratory illnesses are a common occurrence in the fall and winter, with seasonal cases of COVID-19, influenza, strep throat, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) likely increasing over the next few months. But the most common question patients ask is: “How can my family navigate through this year’s upper respiratory infection season?”

“For most people, respiratory illnesses can be treated at home,” says Paul Molling, D.O., family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Onalaska.  “Mayo Clinic typically recommends clinic-based testing and treatment only for those at high risk for severe illness (age 65 or older, immunocompromised, pregnant, have other complex health conditions, etc.). If you have symptoms and aren’t high-risk, you probably don’t need to get tested or make an appointment with your provider.”

Another resource is “Check Symptoms”, now located in the “Get care” section of Mayo Clinic’s patient portal homepage.

“Check Symptoms is the fastest and most convenient way to assess your condition and help you determine if you should seek care. This tool can also connect you to self-scheduling options, including virtual appointments if you need to be seen by a provider,” says Ben Anderson, R.N., operations manager at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

Because RSV and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are both types of respiratory viruses, some symptoms can be similar. In children, COVID-19 often results in mild symptoms such as fever, runny nose, and cough. For adults with COVID-19, symptoms may be more severe and may include trouble breathing. If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness, your doctor may recommend testing for COVID-19.

“Home antigen tests are the fastest, most convenient and least expensive way to get tested,” explains Anderson. “These tests are widely available through commercial pharmacies and big-box grocery stores. If you do test positive for COVID-19, you can self-report your results through the COVID-19 home antigen attestation questionnaire in the patient portal.”

“Most importantly, we ask patients to protect themselves and each other by following simple prevention guidelines,” offers Molling. “Make sure you wash your hands, avoid prolonged contact with sick individuals. Stay current on your recommended vaccines, especially for influenza and COVID-19. If you do become ill, help protect others by staying home. If you do become ill, help protect others by staying home. Wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask if contact with other people is unavoidable.”

Flu and RSV vaccines will be available at Mayo Clinic Health System in October. Patients may begin scheduling their appointments through the patient portal.

The Department of Health and Human Services has also announced that home tests would be once again offered for free via - Free at-home COVID-19 tests.