Home Not out of the woods: COVID-19 cases on the rise, flu and RSV continue to sicken Virginians
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Not out of the woods: COVID-19 cases on the rise, flu and RSV continue to sicken Virginians

Rebecca Barnabi
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While Virginia is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases again, cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are reaching a plateau and influenza cases should end in January.

Dr. Bogdan Neughebauer is Infectious Disease Specialist, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Sentara Healthcare.

In a Zoom call with local press Friday afternoon, he said that up to 10 percent of emergency room admittances are for flu.

“Virginia is a state at a very high rate for influenza-like illness,” Neughebauer said.

The Commonwealth is also experiencing increased COVID cases, although most cases are mild or moderate, and few are admitted to the hospital. The number of deaths “have decreased significantly in the last six months.”

“We think we are at the beginning of another [COVID] wave,” Neughebauer said.

Then RSV is also a problem.

“We are seeing a perfect trifecta,” Neughebauer said. RSV is usually common in children under age 2, but right now adults are experiencing the respiratory ailment. “This is a very unique situation.” The cases of RSV have increased tenfold.

According to Neughebauer, the increase of RSV is thanks to social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals, including adults, did not build an immunity to RSV and were not exposed in the last two years.

Recent COVID-19 cases, flu and RSV have similar symptoms, including dry cough, fever, runny nose and shortness of breath. Some individuals, however, are infected but exhibit no symptoms.

The very young, elderly, and individuals with heart conditions, diabetes or compromised immune systems are at risk to develop severe infections and even be admitted to the hospital.

Neughebauer said that most cases can be assisted with over-the-counter medications, but individuals with severe symptoms should contact their primary care physician or go to the nearest urgent care facility.

“The best way to prevent infections is to wash your hands,” he said, and avoid anyone who is sick. For the holidays, he suggested frequent hand washing, drink fluids, stay healthy and “enjoy your families.”

While cases of COVID-19 have increased, Neughebauer said the number of cases now is nothing like in 2020, but they are expected to climb in the next two to three weeks.

“We’re seeing a mix of everything [COVID-19, flu, RSV],” he said.

When predicting illness occurrence, Neughebauer said the United States looks to Australia, which mirrors trends in the U.S. Australia’s flu season is usually May to October, but began in March this year, and spiked in April and May.

“We are seeing, I think, the same thing in the United States,” Neughebauer said. And flu is expected to dissipate in January 2023. RSV increased significantly since October and November but is now reaching a plateau.

“So, I think we are doing pretty well right now,” he said.

The transmission of respiratory infections is most common in winter and late spring/early summer, according to Neughebauer, because of human behavior. Humans gather together more during both times of year.

“As of now, we still recommend wearing masks at Sentara,” Neughebauer said.

Sentara also recommends keeping up-to-date on flu shots and COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

After a difficult three years, Neughebauer said that healthcare professionals are now optimistic and happy they have tools to battle COVID-19.

“We had to face an enemy that we did not understand for the first three months [in 2020],” he said. Healthcare professionals worked as teams to defeat the enemy, and within 12 months knew how to better handle COVID-19.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.