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RSV, COVID increasing across Washoe County

By Kristen Hackbarth

Respiratory illnesses including RSV, short for respiratory syncytial virus, and COVID-19 are increasing in Washoe County based on the latest case counts and forecasting from wastewater data studies, according to officials with the Washoe County Health District. 

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have increased slightly over the past week, but District Health Officer Kevin Dick said more cases of the virus are expected through November. 

There are significant increases of COVID-19 in wastewater samples from the community, he said, moving from fairly few detected in mid-October to now levels similar to what was seen in July during the last Omicron surge.

Nearly all of the virus detected in the wastewater samples is the BA5 Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The increase in cases is similar also to previous trends from fall 2020 and 2021. 

What’s not similar, Dick said, is that many people now test for COVID-19 at home and their test results aren’t included in the community case counts posted on the WCHD’s COVID-19 dashboard. This can make reviewing the online case data less reliable than during previous surges.

He urged vaccination with the latest COVID-19 booster as a way to keep healthy.

“If you’re on the fence about getting a booster, I can’t overstate the importance of getting an appointment scheduled as soon as possible…It’s easy, it’s convenient and will provide you with good protection needed for the winter months,” Dick said. “We’ve got Thanksgiving coming up in the holiday season, so good to protect yourself and others.”

RSV outbreaks seen in daycares

Cases of RSV have also increased dramatically over the past week, with 107 cases reported over the last three weeks – 54 of those cases within the last week alone.

The virus affects both the upper and lower respiratory tracts and can cause runny nose, water eyes, sneezing and breathing difficulties. Changing breathing patterns, such as faster or labored breathing or difficulty catching one’s breath, are also signs of RSV that could be especially dangerous.

There have been some outbreaks of RSV in local daycares, but RSV infection isn’t limited to just younger children. 

Dr. Reka Danko
Dr. Reka Danko

Dr. Reka Danko, the medical director at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center and a member of the District Board of Health, said RSV can also occur in the elderly and immunocompromised, as well as people with underlying lung or heart conditions. 

The virus typically begins to increase each year around October or November, peaking in January and fizzling out by March or April. This year more cases are being reported earlier. 

“The fact that we are seeing higher levels occurring now than we did last year, where we have more cases than normal is a cause for concern of what we may see coming,” Dick said. 

He stressed that taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus can help Washoe County avoid overwhelmed pediatric wards as has been seen in other parts of the country. 

Danko said preventing the spread of RSV is similar to many other respiratory illnesses. Handwashing, cleaning of common touch surfaces, and covering coughs and sneezes are all recommended. 

“We are certainly heading into our months of risk and our months were those mitigation factors and recognizing those illness symptoms earlier and seeking medical attention earlier can be life saving for our community and our individuals,” she said. “Definitely we have an increased risk…with family gatherings and with holidays and with spending more time indoors and in close proximity with one another.”

No treatments are specifically available for RSV, but health care providers can treat the more serious symptoms including providing oxygen or breathing support and IV fluids to prevent dehydration. 

Danko also noted that some people may experience several viruses together, first getting ill with one and then contracting another. This, she said, can lead to more severe infection and illness. 

Both Dick and Danko urged residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and the flu, and practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of viruses in the community. 

Most local pharmacies have the COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine on hand. For other locations visit COVID19washoe.com or vaccines.gov.

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