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Navigating the Winter: Battling Respiratory Illnesses Amid Rising COVID-19 Cases

In the backdrop of holiday travel and falling temperatures, hospitals are witnessing a surge in admissions relating to respiratory illnesses. Cold and flu cases, common with the advent of winter, are on the rise, worrying healthcare officials across the region. West Virginia hospitals, however, are not anticipating epidemic spikes similar to that experienced during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the recent surge in COVID-19 infections has seen a few hundred West Virginians seeking hospital care.

Reportedly, Dr. Lee Smith from Monongalia County health department has cited an upswing in respiratory illnesses since early December, a trend expected to persist over the holidays and into the new year. Smith attributes this trend partly to the Christmas season and associated travel.

While Matthew Christiansen, who heads the Office of Drug Control Policy at West Virginia Health and Human Resources, anticipates the worst of the flu season to manifest in late January or early February, he cautions that a simultaneous outbreak of influenza and COVID-19 could overwhelm the healthcare system.

According to recent data from the Department of Health and Human Resources’ online dashboard, over 2,600 new COVID-19 cases are reported in West Virginia, with the CDC recording 283 new hospital admissions linked to confirmed COVID-19 cases. Meanwhile, no new flu infections were reported last week.

Michael Stevens, the system healthcare epidemiologist and associate chief quality officer for infection prevention with the WVU Health System, acknowledges an uptick in respiratory illnesses, citing increased cases of influenza, RSV, and COVID. However, he added, the rise is not as steep as observed in previous years.

WVU Medicine maintains a vigilant stance, always preparing for potential surges in respiratory viral activity, especially during the winter. They scrutinize the community, their employees, and patients to ensure they have a handle on cases of illness and the capacity to deliver patient care. WVU hospitals aren’t currently overwhelmed by respiratory cases, and have considerably fewer COVID cases in comparison to past years.

Stevens assures that they are well-prepared to identify and care for patients dealing with these viruses, while also delivering requisite care for other patients. Decisions about hospital admission for respiratory illnesses are made after a thorough examination of various factors including, patient age, comorbidities, and other indicators like vital signs, lab work, and overall disposition of the patient. While influenza and COVID are treated with antiviral drugs, RSV infection is managed with respiratory therapy or vaccinations.


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