Holidays may cause slight uptick in COVID, RSV cases

Published 12:06 am Sunday, November 27, 2022

The CDC noted before the Thanksgiving holiday that there might be a slight uptick in COVID, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and influenza (flu) cases because of people gathering, but they did not expect it to reach anything like epic proportions.

However, according to CDC and the Rowan County Health Department, numbers of all three continue to steadily rise in the community. CDC just recently announced that North Carolina is one of 16 states or major metropolitan areas in the country that is currently seeing the highest level of respiratory-illness activity.

Not everyone who gets RSV, or the flu, is hospitalized. One way the CDC measures the impact of respiratory illnesses is by tracking outpatient clinic visits nationwide. At this time, outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses across the country have skyrocketed and are at levels higher than has been seen since 2010.

This spike in respiratory illnesses is mainly due to the necessary and preventative measures that were put in place during the pandemic.  As a result, immune systems have become weaker as we avoided large crowds of people, wore face masks and have stayed mostly confined to our homes over the last couple of years. Now that these preventative measures have become more lax, respiratory illnesses are being more easily spread.

With emergency rooms becoming full of people who are more fragile and susceptible to illness, Novant Health recently requested that children no longer visit their hospitals at this time in order to help curb the transmission of these respiratory illnesses. This guidance went into effect as of this past Wednesday, Nov. 16. However, this guidance is only for those visiting the hospital. It is not for children who need medical attention. If you or a loved one is having a significant medical problem, please visit your local emergency department to receive the appropriate care.

With the transmission levels increasing for RSV and the flu, one needs to be aware of what to look for. With RSV, signs and symptoms most commonly appear about four to six days after exposure to the virus. In adults and older children, RSV usually causes mild cold-like signs and symptoms such as:

  • Congested or runny nose
  • Dry cough
  • Low-grade fever
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Headache

In severe cases, RSV infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract, causing pneumonia or bronchiolitis and could include the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Severe cough
  • Wheezing — a high-pitched noise that’s usually heard on breathing out (exhaling)
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing — the person may prefer to sit up rather than lie down
  • Bluish color of the skin due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis)

Infants, unfortunately, are the ones most severely affected by RSV. Signs and symptoms of severe RSV infection in infants may include:

  • Short, shallow and rapid breathing
  • Struggling to breathe — chest muscles and skin pull inward with each breath
  • Cough
  • Poor feeding
  • Unusual tiredness (lethargy)
  • Irritability

Most children and adults recover in one to two weeks from RSV; however, some might have repeated wheezing.

*It is important to note that a severe or life-threatening infection with RSV can occur in premature infants or in anyone who has chronic heart or lung problems. If this does occur, it could require the individual to be admitted into the hospital.

The flu can cause a mild to severe illness; and at times, it can even lead to death. Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and can consist of the following symptoms:

  • fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle or body aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

The health department asks everyone to do their part to stop the spread of RSV, the flu, and even COVID-19 by continuing to practice the following preventative measures:

  • Make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations. Appointments can be made at Rowan County Public Health for your flu vaccine, your initial COVID-19 vaccines, as well as your Moderna or Pfizer bivalent booster by calling 704-216-8863.
  • Keep your distance and wear a face mask in crowded, indoor public spaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your arm/elbow or use a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing your baby or child on the mouth or face, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, with others.
  • Clean and disinfect on a daily-basis high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, electronics, toys and countertops.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick or has symptoms.

If you or a loved one does become sick with RSV, the flu and/or COVID-19, please stay at home and follow the recommended isolation guidelines for each illness.