Respiratory virus season ‘looking ugly so far,’ medical professionals say

Vaccinations needed now to protect for Thanksgiving gatherings

Local medical professionals are encouraging people to take precautions while traveling for the holidays with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, already hitting especially hard this year.
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Anyone hosting a Thanksgiving gathering this year with younger, older or immune-compromised guests — especially if some guests are flying in — might consider asking their guests to mask up during their travels.

“If I were traveling, I would be wearing a mask with all the high level of respiratory viruses we are seeing,” said Dr. Dana Fitzgerald at Pediatrics of Steamboat Springs.

To enjoy a holiday party free of masks, preventative masking while on planes or in crowded travel locations is a key to ward off an unwanted respiratory virus that can easily spread to loved ones, said Lauren Bryan, infection prevention program manager at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, getting a flu shot or COVID-19 booster now is important since the vaccinations need two weeks to become fully effective, Bryan said.

Bryan said this year’s respiratory viral season is proving to be an “oddball” with statistics “a little out of kilter with what we’ve seen historically,” especially considering the trifecta of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Although COVID-19 transmission remains Bryan’s top concern, the hospital’s lab has confirmed cases of both influenza A and B this year from in-house nasal swab tests, with more A showing up than B so far. Influenza A is the more severe strain that leads to more hospitalizations, Bryan said, and influenza B does not normally appear until spring.

YVMC Communications Strategist Lindsey Reznicek reported the hospital has admitted patients for RSV, but she would not release the number of patients.

Bryan said she is concerned if young children might need to be transferred to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora because that facility is stretched to capacity due to an earlier than usual high spike in RSV cases in October.

Fitzgerald said although RSV may seem like a bad cold for older children, it is the most common reason nationwide for children under age 2 with a respiratory illness to be admitted to the hospital. She said very young patients may be transferred to Children’s Hospital for care in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit or when they need to be on a ventilator.

According to a UCHealth media advisory on Monday, Nov. 7, University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora opened its intensive care and medical inpatient units to teens to help ease crowding at neighboring Children’s Hospital Colorado.

“The crush of patients at children’s hospitals is similar to the March 2020 influx of COVID-19 patients at hospitals that serve adults,” according to the advisory.

Bryan said the spike in RSV cases across the UCHealth system has already topped last year when the gradual rise in cases peaked around early December.

“This year it has hit really, really, really hard,” Bryan said.

There is no general vaccine for RSV. However, parents of premature infants and young children with certain heart and lung conditions can ask pediatricians about the monoclonal antibody injection Palivizumab, Bryan said.

Bryan believes party hosts should communicate openly if someone in their household is sick so that guests can have a fair warning to make the best decisions for their own health.

“(The respiratory viruses) all are looking ugly so far,” she said. “It depends on the risk factors of the people you have at home.”

The professionals emphasized the importance of washing hands frequently, wearing masks if people are sick and go out in public, and staying out of work and school when sick.

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