Pass the eggnog, not the virus
Dec. 20, 2022
By Mary Wade Burnside
“Pass the eggnog, not the virus.”
That was Monongalia County Health Department’s message in an ad in last Sunday’s Dominion Post.
We thought it was a great way to illustrate that while it’s time to gather with family and friends, precautions can help everyone have a better time.
We also get it. COVID fatigue set in several holidays ago and everyone would like to be done with it.
Unfortunately, not only are we not done with COVID, but because of the pandemic, the United States is now experiencing earlier and more robust seasons of two other viruses: flu and RSV, short for respiratory syncytial virus. You’ve probably heard called a tridemic.
Dr. Mark Rogers of WVU Urgent Care at Suncrest Towne Centre has seen all three illnesses in the past few months.
“Some of it is that COVID has upset the natural balance that’s been set for hundreds of years, and we’re seeing the ripple effect,” he said.
Last January and February, COVID peaked and then RSV, which usually emerges in November or December, hit in September. Flu also arrived earlier and is more robust than usual.
Adding to the severity is that cases of RSV and flu were pretty much non-existent for the past two years, because people were masked up and staying home.
But now it’s a different story. “I tell people it’s the ‘forever flu’ season,” Dr. Rogers said.
When someone complains of symptoms that could be attributed to any of the illnesses, Dr. Rogers and his fellow providers can sometimes guess the likely cause. But they also can conduct a PCR Cepheid 4-Plex test that, with the swab of a nose, can tell them if the patient has flu A, flu B, COVID or RSV, or, occasionally but not often, a coinfection of two of them.
But the recommendation is that if symptoms are manageable for any of these viruses, try to stay home and treat them.
However, telling someone when to go (or not go) to their health care provider, an urgent care or the emergency department at a hospital can be tough, Dr. Rogers admits, and for all the ages.
But he focused on children, including toddlers and babies, to provide some guidance.
If children have a good appetite and are remaining hydrated, and if the temperature can come down at least for a few hours with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, they should be fine, Dr. Rogers said.
Even a high fever for a few days, as long as those other goals are being met, should not be cause for alarm, he added.
When children are irritable, having trouble breathing or if they are wheezing, and if they are dehydrated, then it’s time to seek help.
As the holidays arrive, this isn’t a festive topic. But hospitals have been busy and the goal is to not overwhelm them.
If hospitals do get to capacity, “that affects everything,” Dr. Rogers said. “There is no room for people with heart attacks or strokes or blood clots or pneumonia. It puts a strain on the system and people don’t get the level of care that they need.”
He understands that sick kids who can’t go to daycare is a situation that can put parents in a difficult position, but keeping them away from others is important.
That means staying home for at least 24 hours after a fever breaks and wearing a mask for a while when you do return to society.
And if you are recovering from COVID, maybe consider waiting longer than the recommended time before seeing family members who are older or immunocompromised.
“You have to weigh your risks and the risks of people around you,” Dr. Rogers said. “If your grandmother is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, maybe you should stay away for two weeks,” which was the original quarantine length set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Each person has to look at their risk profile and people they are close to and consider that.”
In the meantime, MCHD continues to recommend being up to date on flu and COVID vaccines and boosters and using commonsense measures, such as handwashing and even wearing a mask in certain situations, to keep yourself and others safe. Call 304-598-5119 to make an appointment for a free flu shot.
Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.