by Avery Delisle, for Community News Service
As autumn leaves fall and temperatures drop, health officials and communities around Vermont are bracing for a heavy blow from seasonal illnesses — and worried about hospitals’ ability to hold firm if Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses spike all at once.
When the air is colder, it damages the immune response occurring in the nose, Harvard Medical School and Northeastern University researchers found in a study last year, the first to offer a biological explanation for a well-observed dynamic. That, coupled with people being inside more often, means it is easier for Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (also known as RSV) to spread, causing an influx of cases.
With the three respiratory viruses circulating, the challenges could be more difficult than previous years. The fear of a “triple-demic,” or the spike of all three illnesses in a short span, is pushing health care officials to prepare for the strain the triple-threat could place on hospitals and health care facilities.
Although they aren’t sure how the season will play out, John Davy, a health surveillance epidemiologist from the Vermont Department of Health, said it is all about timing. When exactly the three illnesses spread and peak can make a large difference, he said.
“The most likely scenarios are all a heavier peak burden than we saw with the 2017 and 2018 influenza and RSV seasons, which really put a strain on our hospitals,” said Davy.
Department officials hope to avoid any overlap of severe peaks, he said, and there is reason to believe they can do so.
“I think in Vermont we have a lot of reason to feel hopeful because we do see the public very engaged in protecting themselves and each other … There are reasons to be hopeful about what peak respiratory disease season will look like in Vermont,” Davy said.
State health leaders encourage people to take responsibility for their health and that of their communities by wearing masks in crowded or indoor settings, practicing good hand hygiene and maintaining physical distance from others when necessary.
Davy also recommended talking to your physician to ensure you make the most informed decision for your health.
All three illnesses share similar symptoms — including fever, cough and fatigue — making it difficult to distinguish between them. The best way to tell the difference? Getting tested.
“If they are experiencing these symptoms, whether it be a fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, trouble breathing — or if you’re a high-risk individual due to age or other health conditions — it’s probably worth getting tested because there are treatments that can be given for Covid-19, for the flu, so folks can can find out with a test through their provider what they have,” Davy said.
Health experts urge the public to get vaccinated against all three viruses and to keep their vaccines up to date.
In September, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved another Covid vaccine that it says can more precisely target the variants circulating right now.
Jessie Leyse, an infectious disease physician from Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, said that’s because the new vaccine is monovalent, meaning it contains only one strand of the virus, unlike previous vaccines, which contained two.
“The variant that is circulating is an Omicron sub-variant, and the updated vaccine is targeted more for that variant,” Leyse said.
As with any vaccine, she said, it’s a game of matching. But so far, it seems a good fit for the strains circulating around Vermont and the greater U.S.
Vaccines can only do so much, both Lyse and Davy said, but are key to preventing serious infection that could lead to hospitalization.
“If you are exposed, it may prevent an infection. It also may just make the infection a lot milder and at the very least keep people out of the hospital,” said Davy.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a testing locator online to find testing sites nearby. The centers also have a program that provides no-cost Covid tests for those who are uninsured.
Categories: Health Care