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County: Respiratory viruses pose ‘triple threat’ in community

By Kristen Hackbarth

Officials at the Washoe County Health District said the region is seeing a respiratory illness “triple threat” with cases of COVID-19, RSV and influenza on the rise. They urged people who are feeling ill – with cough, sneezing, difficulty breathing, runny nose or other symptoms – to stay home and take precautions to not spread their illness.

District Health Officer Kevin Dick said new cases of RSV, short for respiratory syncytial virus, have been nearly doubling week over week since early October, with 156 new cases reported last week. A total 343 cases have been reported this season. 

“It’s almost a doubling rate every week that we’re seeing, and so that’s a cause of concern for us,” he said. “This is much higher than we are typically or have been at this point in the respiratory virus season.”

Older children and adults have some resistance to RSV – they may experience the virus as similar to a cold – but infections in smaller children and seniors can be serious and may require hospitalization.

Dick said that the community’s current level of RSV cases has put a strain on hospital capacity for pediatric patients. The Nevada Hospital Association reported today that hospitals are at 150% of capacity for pediatric units and 100% of capacity for pediatric intensive care units. 

“And that’s due primarily to flu, RSV and other respiratory viruses,” he said. 

COVID-19 cases have increased over the past week as well, up from an average 38 cases per day to 51 cases per day – with a total 325 cases reported in the last week. 

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Dick said what’s important to know about that data is that it only includes results of PCR tests which are reported to the county. At-home COVID-19 tests are generally not reported to the health district, so it’s very likely many more cases are in the community than have been reported, he said. 

Results from the ongoing wastewater study to track diseases indicate COVID-19 is continuing to increase alongside RSV and the flu.

“We’re not done with COVID-19 yet,” Dick added.

Nancy Diao, an epidemiologist with the health district, said influenza is increasing as well with more hospitalizations being seen. Some patients are being diagnosed with co-infections, with either COVID-19 or flu alongside RSV, she said.

Spotting and preventing illness

Many of the symptoms for each of the three respiratory viruses are similar: runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and fatigue. Dick said for RSV, children may also exhibit loss of appetite, and in children under 6, irritability and decreased activity. 

Preventing each of the viruses also have similar methods – ones people have been hearing about consistently since the onset of COVID-19.

“We want people to make sure that they’re washing their hands, washing them thoroughly for 20 seconds and doing it often. Avoid touching your face, particularly with unwashed hands, and frequently clean common touch services surfaces. This will all help in preventing the spread of disease,” Dick said. 

He urged anyone who feels sick to stay home and avoid gatherings to prevent passing on illnesses to more vulnerable populations. 

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