RSV, Flu, and COVID a Worry this Holiday Season
Monday, November 28th, 2022 -- 1:00 PM
(By Rob Mentzer, Wisconsin Public Radio) A spike in a respiratory virus that's dangerous to children, an early-arriving flu season and continued COVID-19 infections have health officials warning Wisconsinites to take precautions to minimize the spread of disease.
According to Rob Mentzer with Wisconsin Public Radio, health officials say especially those who are traveling for the holidays this year should get vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu, wash their hands thoroughly, disinfect surfaces and take other steps to avoid exposing others to illnesses.
Of particular concern this year is RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. For adults, its symptoms are typically those of a mild cold. But the virus can be severe in children, especially those less than a year old, and it poses risks to older people and those with suppressed immune systems.
RSV cases began to rise in October, and according to data from the state Department of Health Services, that rise has continued through this month. It's the dominant strain of respiratory virus in the state, and all regions have seen increases in infections in recent weeks.
In a call with media last week, Dr. Jasmine Zapata, a pediatrician who heads DHS' Bureau of Community Health Promotion, acknowledged that the disease's spread can cause anxiety for the parents of young children.
"This can be a very scary time," Zapata said. "But we want you all to remember that there are preventive measures that you can take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, flu and RSV in your children." Vaccines are available for both COVID-19 and influenza, though not for RSV.
RSV spreads through droplets from coughs or sneezes, which means thorough hand-washing and surface disinfection can be effective ways of limiting its spread, as can teaching children and adults to sneeze into the crooks of their arms rather than directly into their hands.
Like other states, Wisconsin saw virtually no spread of influenza at the height of the pandemic, in large part because of protective measures taken primarily to slow the spread of COVID-19.
That's not true this year, said Tom Haupt, a respiratory disease epidemiologist and the DHS influenza surveillance coordinator. The number of cases of the flu doubled in the first two weeks of November, and Haupt anticipates cases will peak in the coming weeks.
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