Louisiana health officials warn of rise in respiratory illnesses this Halloween season

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:22 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The season of flu and other respiratory illnesses is upon us, and local health officials said Monday (Oct. 31) it is off to a nasty start. Doctors warn of a possible “tri-demic” on the way, with cases of flu, COVID-19 and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in the mix.

“The hospitals are getting busier, the emergency departments are getting busier, and it could really stretch the health care system if we get a convergence of all of these viral infections all at once,” said infectious diseases expert Dr. Fred Lopez of LSU Health.

With the COVID-19 mitigation measures of the past two years now relaxed, parents and doctors are seeing coughs, runny noses and sore throats coming back with a vengeance in the middle of Halloween celebrations.

“Last year, we were talking about twin-demics with the flu and COVID-19,” Lopez said. “This year, we’re hearing about triple-demics with RSV, flu and COVID-19.”

While COVID-19 cases remain relatively low, local doctors worry about how much of an impact all three respiratory illnesses will have in the next few months. The flu already is hitting the state earlier and harder than usual.

“The Louisiana Department of Health reports that we’re seeing about 6.7 percent flu-like illness, and our baseline is usually below 3.9,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, the medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Ochsner Health. “I mean, most of the time during the year, we’re seeing close to zero.”

LDH also reports a current 10 percent baseline in the population for RSV, affecting mainly children.

“You can imagine that they might be more susceptible to infection, and perhaps greater severity of infection, because of the immunity not being there as it would have been in the past, when these viruses were circulating consistently year to year,” Lopez said.

Doctors are seeing these viruses predominantly in children but said they can quickly leak out into the adult population. These and other respiratory viruses are circulating Monday as trick-or-treaters make their rounds.

“It’s really hard to tell from the symptoms alone,” Baumgarten said. “All of them can involve fever and body aches and lead to sore throat. Especially, I think, with Omicron we’ve seen a lot more sore throat with COVID-19 and fatigue. So, it’s really difficult to know, but pull out that home (COVID) test.”

Doctors say prevention remains relatively simple: Maintain vaccinations against both COVID-19 and the flu, wash hands frequently, and stay home when you feel sick.

“It’s here and we’re seeing lots of it,” Lopez said. “And as a result, you really should get vaccinated as soon as possible, because it takes two weeks before your immunity develops.”

Lopez says the country has slipped to around 50 percent vaccination rates against both COVID-19 and the flu.

Baumgarten says the vaccines are safe to receive all at once, and that the flu shot this year is proving to be particularly effective against this strain.

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