The West Piedmont Health District (WPHD) is reporting high transmission rates of influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in the region.
Nancy Bell, public information officer for the district, said a substantial transmission of cases is 52 to 100 cases per 100,000 people.
“It’s mostly in the schools and at long-term care facilities, and really just school-aged children in general. It’s just in enclosed settings you’re going to have more infection,” she said.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Bell said it affects the lungs and breathing passages. The illness can generally last between three and seven days, with most people who have a mild illness recovering in less than two weeks.
“Infants, young children, and older adults are at a higher risk of developing serious complications if they get sick with RSV,” she said.
People can prevent RSV by covering coughs and sneezes, washing their hands, cleaning frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs and mobile devices, and avoid close contact with others.
Bell said RSV is part of a trifecta that includes COVID-19 and the flu.
“It’s all very dangerous put together, and one of the main reasons is you can’t really tell one from another necessarily. Without a positive COVID test, you can’t rule out COVID,” she said.
Bell added that while COVID transmissions are down, the vaccine numbers are slightly flat.
“The new vaccine covers both strands of the virus that have been so bothersome. We have cautioned people to get flu and COVID vaccines, and you can get them at the same time,” she said.
Bell said the differences between the viruses is minimal because “all three of them are affecting your respiratory system.”
The viruses also are treated the same, with mucus looseners, cough suppressants, and fever reducers.
“RSV can kill you just like COVID can, and in some cases the flu can as well. Especially in extremely young and extremely old folks,” she said.
Most years, the presence of RSV is hardly noted, Bell said. However, “it’s quite prominent this year.”
The flu also came earlier this year, she added. “We started having flu and RSV cases at the beginning of October. (That’s) when they became noticeable.”
WPHD Epidemiologist Sharon Ortiz-Garcia said the organization’s seasonal flu surveillance efforts helps to track case levels. Efforts include collecting and analyzing data on visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers for influenza-like illness (ILI), laboratory results of confirmatory tests, suspected and confirmed outbreaks, and pediatric and adult deaths.
Ortiz-Garcia said some schools in the district, including Patrick County, have reported absenteeism due to the flu in the last two weeks.
“Compared to this time in the last flu season, the activity level has significantly increased,” she said.
For additional information on RSV and influenza, visit vdh.virginia.gov or cdc.gov.