Payton Williams 540-981-3126
Amid unusually high rates of flu and other respiratory infections this year across the country and closer to home, medical experts are warning that a particularly severe flu season could be on the way.
The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association released a joint statement earlier this week, saying a combination of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection spikes has resulted in an alarming increase in patients suffering from the virus Searching for help.
“Emergency department and emergency clinic visits with patient diagnoses of RSV have quadrupled since early September and remain significantly elevated,” the statement said. “Visits for flu-like illness are also increasing – in the week ending November 5 such visits are at least four times higher than in the same week in each of the last four years.”
dr Anthony W. Baffoe-Bonnie, chief of infectious diseases at Carilion Health System, said this year’s early flu spike is a worrying sign for the coming season — both in Southwest Virginia and the rest of the United States
“It’s higher than usual this time of year,” Baffoe-Bonnie said. “The last time it was that high was 2010-2011.”
The rise in infections has already impacted Southwest Virginia, leading to public school cancellations in Craig County and more recently Pulaski County, which canceled Tuesday classes, citing high numbers of respiratory infections among both students and staff.
While school officials for public schools in Salem, Roanoke City and Roanoke County say they haven’t seen any higher-than-usual infections so far, Baffoe-Bonnie said it’s important to note that this is still the early part of flu season.
“This type of respiratory illness loves the colder weather that we see throughout the winter,” Baffoe-Bonnie said.
Public health experts are urging Virginians to get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19 as soon as possible. “It’s better late than never,” said Baffoe-Bonnie.
Other recommendations include wearing a mask indoors where there are significant numbers of people – especially those at high risk of severe respiratory infections – and avoiding family gatherings if someone has symptoms of a respiratory infection, whether it be COVID-19 or a other.
Roanoke and New River Valley hospitals have reported that while they have treated more patients than usual, they are not at risk of reaching capacity in the near future.
Christopher Finley, a spokesman for the LewisGale Health System, said hospitals have seen an influx of pediatric patients due to the recent surge in RSV infections, but that all four regional medical facilities are “…well equipped to care for these pediatric patients.” .
But with the worst of the flu season likely to come, Baffoe-Bonnie said it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible to avoid overloading health care providers in the area.
“We don’t have to meet anyone we don’t have to,” Baffoe-Bonnie said. “We know things that can prevent infections from occurring.”