A record number of Erie County residents, many of them infants and young children, have tested positive for RSV last week as the region continues to grapple with three highly communicable viral diseases: RSV, influenza and COVID-19.
Erie County Health Department officials reported 249 cases of RSV from October 30 to November 3. 5, the highest weekly number since RSV became a notifiable disease in 2003. It is higher than the county’s annual total for every year through 2016.
The recent spike in RSV and flu cases, coupled with a steady number of COVID-19 cases, has yet to lead to a similar rise in hospitalizations, though local doctors are concerned this could happen soon.
“The concern is what we might see in the next week or two,” said Dr. Gregory Beard, medical director of UPMC Hamot. “According to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the state Department of Health, we are likely to see more of the three viruses. We are ready.”
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RSV is a virus that causes mild cold-like symptoms in older children and adults, but can cause life-threatening breathing problems in young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic lung problems.
Of the 249 RSV cases reported in the county last week, 61% (152 cases) were children under the age of 5. Another 21% (53 cases) were children ages 5 to 9, the county health department reported.
A spike in RSV among infants and toddlers recently prompted UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the hospital where Hamot and Saint Vincent Hospital sometimes send their sickest young patients, to pitch a tent outside its emergency department to classify patients with RSV.
None of the Erie hospitals have seen the need to pitch a tent or convert any of their existing medical units to accommodate more people with respiratory illnesses.
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“That’s not to say we’re not busy. We are,” said Dr. Christopher Clark, president of Saint Vincent. “But it’s not the direct impact of these viruses. We’re busy for a lot of different reasons.”
Clark said Saint Vincent had five patients admitted Tuesday with RSV, none with the flu and eight with COVID-19, one of the hospital’s lowest daily numbers of COVID-19 patients in weeks.
Countywide, 34 patients have been hospitalized with RSV since Oct. 1 and no deaths have been reported.
RSV surge could be due to testing, lack of herd immunity
The recent increase in RSV cases appears to be due to a couple of different causes.
“We believe these higher-than-normal case counts can be attributed to increased RSV testing as well as suppressed immune systems after the pandemic,” said Lauren Carson, research associate for epidemiology at the county health department. .
RSV is not the only viral outbreak in the county. The county health department reported 160 cases of the flu last week, nearly double the 87 cases reported the week before.
The majority of the 281 flu cases this season, 73%, have been in people 18 and younger. Only 4% are 65 years or older. Only three county residents have been hospitalized with the flu this season, and no deaths have been reported.
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Clearly flu season came much earlier than last season, when cases peaked in March and April. Although flu season often varies from year to year, the use of face masks and social distancing carried out during 2020 and early 2021 to combat COVID-19 could have had a ripple effect on the flu and RSV, he said. Beard.
“During the COVID pandemic, we didn’t see many cases of RSV or the flu,” Beard said. “Our herd immunity has (diminished) and now we are seeing more cases.”
COVID-19 cases decline slightly as RSV and flu rise
While RSV and flu cases increased, the number of COVID-19 cases in the county decreased last week, from 287 cases reported from October 26 to November 2. 1 to 237 cases reported from November 2 to 8, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
COVID-19 hospitalizations of county residents also decreased during that time, from a daily average of 34.3 to 28. There have been no reported COVID-19 deaths since mid-October, and the monthly death total decreased from 12 in September. to four in October, the county health department reported.
“We are seeing pretty stable numbers as far as COVID is concerned,” Clark said. “We are learning to live with it, although I am disappointed that case numbers remain so high. I wish we could see less spread.”
Here’s a look at the county other COVID-19 measures between October 26 and November 26. November 1 and 2-8, according to the state health department:
- The rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants decreased from 106.4 to 87.9.
- The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests dropped from 14.4% to 11.5%.
- The daily average number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators decreased from 1.4 to 1.1.
- The percentage of visits to the ER for symptoms of COVID-19 decreased from 3.7% to 3.6%.