As we approach the waning phase of the respiratory viral infection season, healthcare professionals warn that the danger is far from subsided. Reports pouring in from several hospitals across the state indicate that the trifecta of flu, RSV, and COVID-19 continue to pose considerable threats to public health. Hospital admissions for severe cases continue unabated, demanding unwavering vigilance and continued protective measures. Even as the total number of cases see a downward trend, the severity of cases presents a pressing concern.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the level of respiratory illness activity remains at a worrying moderate level, underlining the fact that we are yet to reach a state of relative safety. As Dr. Sharon F. Welbel, an infectious disease specialist associated with Cook County Health explains, ‘Though the overall infection rate shows signs of subsiding – gauged through the decrease in emergency department visits – we see a simultaneous rise in hospitalization rates for both influenza and COVID.’
Echoing this sentiment of caution, Dr. Larry Kociolek, an infectious diseases physician who also fulfills the role of medical director for infection prevention and control at Lurie Children’s Hospital, asserts the necessity to uphold our protective guard. ‘The respiratory viral season is far from over. The return of children to school environments and the prevalence of multiple types of respiratory viruses in the community present significant chances for the spread of these viruses.’ The cold weather does little to assuage the problem.
Though the cold itself is not the cause of illnesses, the lower humidity levels enhance the efficiency of droplet-borne diseases. Most at risk are the elderly, the young children, and the infants for whom RSV can trigger life-threatening complications. Dr. Kociolek warns, ‘In small infants, the airways can become clogged with mucus and inflammation, creating severe breathing difficulties.’ Therefore, the importance of protective measures such as wearing masks in crowded places, practicing good hand hygiene, getting timely vaccinations, and undergoing testing at the onset of symptoms cannot be overstated.