As much as we all want COVID to vanish, it won't. And a new variant has numbers climbing again.

This newest COVID-19 variant is a grandchild of sorts of the Omicron variant - which was so prevalent during winter 2021. The variant, XBB1.5, is now one of three primary variants circulating across the country.

And while it’s highly contagious, Dr. David Priest, Novant Health’s chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer, said it’s not as severe, or deadly, as other variants.

That said, it is dangerous for the elderly, people with pre-existing health conditions, and those who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. Those patients make up the majority of people being treated for COVID-19 in Novant Health hospitals.

The most important step anyone can take is to get vaccinated and follow-up with boosters. Almost everyone is eligible for boosters at this point. See details below.

Which virus is it?

COVID-19, flu, and RSV all share similar symptoms. “They all can cause fever and headache and respiratory symptoms and aches and pains and so it’s very difficult for physicians even to distinguish them without testing,” Priest said.

RSV is common and highly contagious. It typically affects younger children, and nearly all children in the United States have had it by the time they’re two. Its symptoms mimic a cold and most people recover without any problem.

He advised people to speak with their doctor’s office to determine if and when someone needs to be seen by a medical professional.

Why now?

This respiratory illness surge comes on the heels of the holidays. Priest said it’s not surprising, with so many people traveling, and getting together in groups during the holiday season.

He also said there is some waning immunity, both from natural infection and vaccination.

Tracking the trend

A combination of actual case numbers and forecast modeling from the Centers for Disease Control shows XBB1.5 making up nearly one-third of the COVID cases in the Carolinas, as it spreads down the East Coast.

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What can we do to stay healthy?

The best way to avoid the flu and COVID-19 is to get vaccinated against both. Find answers to common questions and learn how to book your flu shot in seconds here.

Most COVID-19 patients in Novant Health hospitals are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. That means they didn’t finish their primary vaccination series or haven’t received recommended boosters.

Don’t forget: the latest round of boosters are specially formulated to fight the current variant.

The eligibility parameters are a little different for each vaccine. Here are the specifics:

  • Moderna COVID-19 updated vaccine: Individuals 18 and older are eligible for a single booster dose if it has been at least two months since they have completed primary vaccination or have received the most recent booster dose with any authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 updated vaccine: Individuals 12 and older are eligible for a single booster dose if it has been at least two months since they have completed primary vaccination or have received the most recent booster dose with any authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Eligible? Schedule yours here or call your primary care physician's office to see if they offer COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. It’s safe to get flu and COVID-19 shots at the same time.

There is currently no RSV vaccine. Effective handwashing is one of the best defenses against that virus.

Action steps you can take now

  • To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine or booster: Schedule online or call your primary care physician's office.
  • To schedule a flu shot: Novant Health patients may schedule a shot with their primary care provider online. For those who don’t have a primary care provider, visit a Novant Health walk-in clinic.
    • Children from 6 months to 18 years of age should be vaccinated for seasonal flu each year. If your child is between the ages of 6 months and 9 years, your child may need two doses of vaccine given 21 days apart for the first time only.

Tips and reminders to help parents navigate tricky times

  • Please call or message your child’s primary care provider before going to the emergency department or your child’s clinic. In many cases, your child will be able to receive the care they need without even leaving home.
  • The Novant Health on-demand care team serves pediatric populations with pediatric doctors and advanced practice providers, or APPs, available 24/7 for video visits. This team can order at-home tests for COVID-19, influenza and RSV all in one swab.
  • Novant Health GoHealth Urgent Care clinics are available to patients older than six months and appointments may be scheduled online.
  • Novant Health offers after-hours triage and answering services powered by Care Connections, a 24/7 service line: 888-976-4982.
  • The emergency department is available for life-threatening injury or illness.

Tips for parents treating illnesses at home

  • Ask your doctor what you need to do to care for your child at home. Make sure to ask questions if you do not understand what the doctor says. This way you will know what you need to do to care for your child.
  • Have your child drink a lot of fluids, such as water, broth, sports drinks and ice chips. This will keep your child's fluid levels up. This is very important if your child is throwing up, passing liquid stool or less urine, or has no tears when crying.
  • Prioritize rest. Your child needs to rest to get better.
  • Use a machine that makes steam like a vaporizer or humidifier. It may help open up a clogged nose so your child can breathe easier.

When to seek immediate medical attention

  • Look for signs of fluid loss. These include soft spot on a baby's head looks sunken, few or no tears when crying, dark-colored urine or only a small amount of urine for more than 6 to 8 hours, dry mouth, cracked lips, dry skin, sunken eyes, lack of energy, feeling very sleepy.
  • Your child's fever or cough returns, does not go away or gets worse.
  • Throwing up or loose stools continue, and your child can’t keep liquids down.
  • Your child does not want to interact with others, be held or is confused.
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child is not feeling better, or your child is feeling worse.

We also encourage home COVID-19 testing when possible. Using the care advice above, you can also treat fever and flu at home without needing a test.