Nam Y. Ho/AP
As the weather cools, health officials are preparing for a new season of disease. This is the time of year when we gather indoors and spread respiratory viruses.
So what’s brewing in Viral Stew?
The big three are influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and coronavirus disease (COVID-19). “These are the three that use the health care system the most and cause the most severe illness,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, acting director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to a study by KFF, a nonprofit health policy research group, 40% of U.S. households were infected with at least one of these viruses last year.
And other viruses are in the mix, said Marlene Wolfe, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Emory University. There are rhinoviruses and non-coronaviruses, both of which can cause the common cold.
Parainfluenza is a different strain of influenza than the one that causes influenza and can cause croup and pneumonia in children. There is also enterovirus D68, which caused a national respiratory disease outbreak in 2014.
There is also the human metapneumovirus, a relatively new virus that was first identified in 2001. It belongs to the same family as RSV and has similar symptoms.
Wastewater data reveals the full picture of the virus
Wolf said wastewater survey data showed that human metapneumovirus was prevalent last winter. In California, where the samples were collected, it could be a fourth virus added to the triple infection mix.
Wolfe co-leads WastewaterScan, a program that provides a detailed, real-time look at circulating pathogens based on testing wastewater samples from across the United States.
Many of these viruses have symptoms similar to a cold or flu, such as coughing, sneezing, aches, fever, and chills. These infections may not result in medical attention, but they do cause illness and suffering. Analyzing wastewater data collected from community-level wastewater treatment plants means researchers are beginning to get a complete picture of what’s circulating.
That means data coming in “even from people who are mildly ill and just drinking tea at home,” Wolf said. Wastewater information can help show how these different viruses intersect, Wolf said.
Knowing what’s prevalent locally could help health care workers and hospital systems plan for a surge. “If you have more than one of these viruses, [surging] At the same time, it can be even worse for the individual, and it can be even worse for the system that is trying to take care of them,” she says.
It’s still early in the season. So far, national data shows most regions of the country have moderate levels of COVID-19, with low levels of other respiratory viruses, but some states in the southeast An increase in the number of RSV cases has been observed.
Vaccination can reduce the risk of disease
That means now is a good time to get protection, says CDC’s Daskalakis. “Vaccination can reduce the level of disease and reduce its severity,” he says, describing the effect of vaccines as “taming” the disease and “turning a lion into a little cat.”
This season, the latest COVID-19 and influenza vaccines are aimed at children 6 months and older. For RSV, there are vaccines for the elderly and pregnant people, and vaccinations for newborns.
There may be no medical intervention for other winter viruses, but preventive measures such as good ventilation, washing hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and staying home when sick to reduce symptoms “There are very good common sense strategies” that can help, Daskalakis said. Potential for transmitting disease.
The CDC expects hospitalizations during the 2023-2024 virus season to be similar to last year, better than at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but worse than in previous years. I predict that will happen. Still, hospitals could be overwhelmed if these viruses peak all at once. The CDC says vaccines and collective common sense will help keep these levels down.