SOUTHINDIANA — Southern Indiana is facing an active respiratory virus season, according to local health experts.
dr Emily Volk, chief medical officer at Baptist Health Floyd, said cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza were high compared to recent years and the hospital continues to record COVID-19 hospitalizations. She urges people to stay home if they are sick and get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 as soon as possible.
Volk said RSV levels in particular are higher than normal this year and the flu season “seems to be a little livelier than last year.”
In recent years, people “may have found themselves in a little immunological bubble” as they took COVID-19 mitigation measures like masking, social distancing and limiting exposure to the wider community.
“Your immune system has to get used to different viruses that we have in our environment,” Volk said.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said he’s seen “more activity than the last few years combined” when it comes to respiratory viruses like flu and RSV.
“The masking that we did for COVID was very effective for other diseases as well, although obviously we don’t do it routinely for those, and now we don’t,” he said.
Yazel said it was likely the area would see a “worse than normal flu season.”
For the week ended November 5, the Indiana Department of Health and Human Services reported “moderate” levels of influenza-like illness, according to IDOH’s weekly influenza report. One flu-related death was reported in Indiana this season.
Regarding COVID-19, there has been a surge in cases locally over the past few weeks and Yazel expects elevated levels as the holiday season approaches.
Today, COVID-19 hospitalizations are often “in and out of supportive care” as opposed to weeks in the ICU, he said.
“Fortunately, the severity is relatively mild, but we’re seeing a small uptick in some cases,” Yazel said. “We’re watching that closely.”
Baptist Health Floyd’s COVID-19 levels are not as high as last year, Volk says. Most patients who require hospitalization related to COVID-19 have not been vaccinated, she said.
“If you haven’t received your first COVID vaccine yet, start well in advance of the holiday season and you’ve received your first vaccines against COVID, but you haven’t received the bivalent booster, by all means get it,” Volk said. “It covers the Omicron variant really well.”
Yazel said the region is likely to see both increased RSV activity and increased testing for the virus as doctor’s offices test for flu, COVID-19 and RSV at the same time. RSV is of particular concern for children under 6 months, including preterm infants, he said.
Volk said even if someone tests negative for COVID-19, it’s important to stay home if they have symptoms such as a fever, constipation, cough or body aches.
“If you have these upper respiratory symptoms or flu symptoms, stay home and avoid contact with others,” she said. “I understand that not everyone can do this, but when possible we really need to respect our body’s need to heal from illness and also honor trying to keep other people from catching themselves with what we may be wearing.”
There is no vaccine for RSV, but Volk emphasizes the importance of both flu and COVID-19 vaccinations in reducing the burden on local health systems, saying the vaccines free up resources “to take care of conditions.” , for which there is no vaccine.”
“For influenza and COVID, we have vaccines that are effective in keeping you out of the ICU and play a huge role in keeping you out of the ER,” she said. “Not only do they help you as an individual to avoid serious illnesses, but they also help ease the pressure on healthcare systems.”
“It keeps the healthcare resources available that we need for people suffering from conditions for which there is no practical prevention,” she said. “In addition to treating flu, COVID and RSV, our emergency rooms and emergency centers also care for patients with heart disease, stroke, complications from cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.”