RSV cases decreasing; COVID-19, flu still a concernz

LIMA — After months of being burdened with the so-called “tridemic” of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, COVID-19 and influenza, some area hospitals are finally experiencing relief.

RSV and other virus cases rose quickly from the start of the fall season until mid-December, when cases began trending down, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local hospitals are continuing to see a large number of patients with Influenza A and COVID-19, but RSV cases have dropped dramatically.

According to the CDC, RSV hospitalizations have decreased by two-thirds since November. Hospitalizations for the flu and COVID-19 are trending down, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

An earlier season

Dr. Matthew Owens, chief clinical officer at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, said RSV and the flu had earlier seasons than in years past, and COVID-19 has continued to make its way through the community.

Owens said at St. Rita’s, there is a “baseline” of patients coming in weekly with COVID-19, which has not changed significantly the past few months. He said the virus does not appear to be seasonal in nature, like the flu and RSV.

Allen County Public Health Commissioner Brandon Fischer said RSV is difficult to track, but children’s hospitals across the state reported increased RSV hospitalizations in early December. Fischer said although the numbers have gone down, the virus is still a concern.

Fischer said symptoms of the virus include fever, runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing and wheezing in more severe cases. He said symptoms typically show up about four to six days after infection, and the virus is spread by airborne particles.

Dr. Susan Kaufman, a family practitioner and incoming vice president and chief medical officer at Lima Memorial Health Systems, said the hospital has seen this same decrease in RSV, but it is busier than it has been in a while with flu and COVID-19 patients. She said RSV is still a concern despite its decrease.

Kaufman said she believes pandemic isolation prevented many people from developing an immunity to RSV, and with changing strains of flu and COVID-19, many people are more susceptible to illness than they may have been in years past.

Sherry Recker, director of nursing at the Putnam County Health Department, said the county has seen an increase in flu and COVID-19 cases in December and January, but it relies on hospitals to track RSV. Recker said the flu is a bit easier to track than COVID-19 because many people use home tests for coronavirus and may not report positive results to the health department.

Auglaize County Health Commissioner Oliver Fisher said the county is experiencing a large amount of respiratory illness as well, and he recommends community members use measures learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to protect against all respiratory viruses.

According to the CDC , the flu can cause fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, muscle or body aches, fatigue and vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

A run of RSV

Owens said while he has noticed a decrease in RSV cases at St. Rita’s, flu and COVID-19 cases have increased following the holidays. He said this is not unexpected because many people were in close contact with friends and family.

Owens said he believed RSV cases have decreased so dramatically because a large number of children have already been exposed to it and have developed immunity. Anyone can become infected with the virus, but it is most severe in young children, those with compromised immune systems and the elderly.

Kaufman said the majority of the population susceptible to RSV likely had a prior infection during the surge.

“Now the people who have had it in the past are more resistant, because if you’ve had it, you have some immunity,” Kaufman said. “Your body can kind of fight it off a little bit.”

Kaufman said RSV can spread quickly through the air, and while a person is typically contagious for three to eight days, in some cases, they could be contagious for four weeks. This makes the amount of time a child should stay home from school a difficult decision.

Fisher said it can be difficult to make sure children practice hand hygiene and other measures to prevent respiratory illnesses, but these measures are important in reducing the spread. Commonly touched surfaces should be regularly disinfected, and children should be taught to wash their hands thoroughly and cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze or cough.

Kaufman said at Lima Memorial, medical personnel often test patients with respiratory symptoms for RSV, COVID-19 and flu because many of the symptoms overlap.

Vaccination reminder

On Nov. 4, the CDC issued a health advisory for increased respiratory viruses in the early fall of 2022 and 2023 winter, especially in children. It recommended “prompt vaccination” against influenza and COVID-19 to all eligible people not up to date on these vaccinations.

To prevent COVID-19 infections, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff and Ohio Department of Aging Director Ursel McElroy on Wednesday urged Ohioans to receive an updated COVID-19 booster shot.

In a media release, Vanderhoff said those ages 65 and up and the immunocompromised are at higher risk of serious illness or death if they have not received the updated shot.

Illnesses and children

Fisher said once people become ill with a respiratory virus, they should treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medicine and stay hydrated to avoid the need for hospitalization. Parents should reach out to their healthcare provider with concerns about their child’s symptoms.

“(RSV is) a young person’s disease,” Fischer said. “It’s usually something that most children have it by the time they turn 2.”

Kaufman said parents of kids with respiratory illnesses should ensure they seek medical care for their child early, that the child gets enough nutrition or, if they are picky eaters, take multivitamins, get enough rest and stay home until they feel better.

Schools in Mercer, Hardin and Van Wert Counties are seeing similar trends to those of local hospitals.

Celina Primary School and Ada Elementary both saw an increase in illness absences before winter break, with a decrease since students returned on Wednesday. Van Wert Elementary experienced a similar trend and is now sending fewer kids home for respiratory and stomach symptoms compared to before the winter break.

Owens said ebbs and flows in respiratory viruses are normal, particularly with the flu. He said with the flu and RSV starting earlier than in previous years, their seasons may end earlier, but this is not guaranteed.

Kaufman said measures similar to those for COVID-19 should be taken to prevent the spread of all respiratory viruses, and should a person choose to wear a mask, an N95 is the best option. Respiratory virus particles can pass through surgical masks.

“Stay away from people when you’re sick,” Kaufman said. “If you don’t know what it is, don’t guess and take it to your grandma, who’s going to really do bad from it.”