First, the bad news: Respiratory viruses, including the latest variants that cause COVID-19, are spiking across the U.S. as colder weather lures people indoors more often.
Nearly four years after the start of a pandemic that shut down much of the U.S. economy for many months, COVID-19 remains a serious health threat. This is especially true for people with a higher risk of severe illness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is a bright side, however: Data show that vaccinations to reduce the risk of COVID-19 remain effective, and powerful antiviral treatments can curb the disease’s severity in people who contract it.
Additionally, hemophilia and other inheritable blood and bleeding disorders that hinder clotting don’t increase susceptibility to COVID-19 or heighten the possibility of serious illness or hospitalization if someone is infected. Nor is having an inheritable blood or bleeding disorder a reason to avoid getting vaccinated, though health care experts do recommend some precautions:
- Since COVID-19 vaccinations should be given intramuscularly, the smallest gauge needle available (25 to 27 gauge) should be used, if possible.
- Pressure should be applied to the injection site for at least 10 minutes after injection to reduce bleeding and swelling.
- Recipients should give the site a self-inspection after several minutes, and again two to four hours later, to make sure there’s no delayed hematoma.
- People with a history of allergic reactions to extended half-life clotting factor concentrates that contain polyethylene glycol (PEG) should discuss their vaccine choice with their doctor since some vaccines include PEG.
- Patients with moderate to severe hemophilia should receive factor VIII or factor IX injection before getting vaccinated. No hemostatic precautions are required for people with a base factor VIII or factor IX level higher than 10%.
Taking precautions against COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), is particularly important this winter, health officials say.
The CDC issued an advisory to health care providers and public health officials in December warning of an increase in such diseases, especially in the southern U.S.
Low vaccination rates could lead to more severe cases “and a strained health care system for the rest of the season,” the agency notes.
A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, JN.1, is responsible for a growing number of COVID-19 infections, the CDC points out. JN.1 is an offshoot of the omicron BA.2.86 variant estimated to be responsible for 62% of all COVID-19 variants in early January.
While its expansion indicates it may be more transmissible than other variants or simply better at evading immune system responses, recent laboratory data shows that updated 2023 and 2024 vaccines “produce antibodies that protect against JN.1,” the CDC says. “It’s a good time to take extra precautions to protect yourself and others, especially while other respiratory diseases including influenza are also on the rise.”
An additional concern public health officials are monitoring is an increase in worldwide pneumonia cases in children, which can be caused by many types of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, according to the CDC.
Staying up to date with vaccines against pneumococcal disease and pertussis (whooping cough), as well as with inoculations against respiratory viruses, can help curb the risk of pneumonia, the agency adds.
If you’re looking for help distinguishing between symptoms of a common cold and something more serious, Johns Hopkins Medicine offers a primer on respiratory illnesses.
- Common cold: Caused by more than 200 viruses, including the rhinovirus, it typically leads to congestion, irritated throat, coughing, chills, and fatigue, which may last from a few days to several weeks. Decongestants, cough drops, and antihistamines may help.
- Flu: Caused by constantly evolving viruses, the flu may include symptoms such as fever, body aches, coughing, headaches, and even diarrhea or vomiting. Rest, fluids, and medicines may provide some relief, and antiviral medications such as Tamiflu or Relenza may be prescribed in severe cases. The worst symptoms usually pass in three to five days, though coughing and fatigue can last for weeks.
- COVID-19: Transmitted through close person-to-person contact or airborne droplets from conversation, coughs, and sneezes, COVID-19 has a range of effects. Some people have few or no symptoms, while others experience a sore throat, congestion, fever and chills, lose their sense of smell or taste, and report shortness of breath. Moderate cases may last for as long as two weeks, and post-COVID-19 symptoms from cough to intermittent fever and weakness may linger for weeks or months. Antiviral treatments can reduce the length and severity of COVID-19 but must be started shortly after infection.