File Photo – COVID-19 Testing | Photo: Jakayla Toney (via Unsplash)

Health officials say they are seeing an unusual increase in seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus cases in McHenry County and urge residents to take steps to prevent the viruses.

The McHenry County Department of Health (MCDH) said in a statement Thursday morning they have seen a “dramatic increase” in positive cases of influenza in McHenry County over the past week.

“The best way to prevent influenza is by getting vaccinated. Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, so it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible to reduce the risk of getting the virus,” the MCDH said.

Health officials say the circulation of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a common seasonal infection, has been elevated since September with emergency room visits currently over two times higher than peak RSV activity in the past.

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RSV can cause serious illness in infants under six months of age, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms of RSV usually occur within four to six days of infection and are similar to the common cold, ranging from a persistent cough and wheezing to fever.

The MCDH also noted that community levels of COVID-19 remain low but have begun to increase.

Officials said COVID continues to disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, including older adults and people who are immunocompromised.

Susan Karras, MCDH’s Director for Public Health Nursing, recommends that residents get their flu shots and stay up to date on the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Through our infectious disease surveillance, we have identified an unusual increase in RSV and influenza cases than what we typically see at this time, which could indicate we are headed toward a fall and winter with increased levels of respiratory illnesses circulating in our community,” Karras said.

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The symptoms for all three illnesses can be indistinguishable, the MCDH said. “While some people, especially older children, may experience mild symptoms, others are at increased risk of severe complications.”

Health officials recommend people frequently wash their hands, stay home when sick and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.