If you are sick, stay home.
That’s the big message behind the state’s announcement Friday that Delaware could face a “tripledemic” of three serious respiratory viruses: COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV.
All three are putting patients of all ages into hospitals, which were already strained by infected patients and those who need medical care for other reasons.
“Our primary message is stay home if you are sick,” said Dr. Rick Hong, interim director of the Division of Public Health. “Fortunately, a vaccine is available for flu and COVID-19 … Unfortunately, a vaccine is not available for RSV and the current increase in cases throughout Delaware and the country emphasize the need to carefully follow prevention measures for these seasonal viruses.”
Roots of Tripledemic
For the week of Oct. 16-Oct. 22, 2022, there were 44 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu, compared to 19 cases the week before. That brings the statewide total for the season which began Oct. 2, to 69.
There are many more cases of flu out there. Many people with flu never go to a doctor. Many who do are not tested by the state lab. Their doctors or clinics test them in the office. So there likely are hundreds to thousands of cases circulating, even though the official count is low.
For the same week, there were 98 cases of RSV, for a season total of 250.
The flu and COVID-19 have many similar symptoms, including fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches and headaches.
Other signs and symptoms of COVID-19 that are different from flu include a change in or loss of taste or smell.
Some recent reports have said that many people report that a sore throat is the first sign of the more serious Omicron mutations. That’s also a common first sign of the flu.
The state recommend that those who are sick call their own health care provider to see if they should be tested for COVID-19 or come in for a visit.
Those who test at home when they are sick should consider re-testing in two days if their test is negative, or ask their doctor is they need a flu test.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually starts with mild, cold-like symptoms including fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and in infants, fussiness and poor feeding.
It can progress to more severe symptoms such as fast or short breathing or wheezing. Infants and young children whose cases are worsening may make grunting noises when breathing, chest caving in during breathing, and skin turning purple or blue due to lack of oxygen.
While persons of any age can develop RSV, it is most common in children under age 2 and can be severe, especially for infants and older adults.
Most people will recover in one to two weeks, but some children require hospitalization.
The state recommends:
- Get vaccinated for COVID-19, the flu and other illnesses for which vaccines are available
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and dispose of the tissue in a wastebasket afterward
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Sanitize commonly touched surfaces more frequently during the fall and winter
- Wear a mask when cases are high or if you are at higher risk for respiratory illness
Public Health said that many emergency departments are already experiencing lengthy wait times. Here is their suggestion about when to visit and ER, when not to and when to call 911.
When to visit an emergency room:
- Trouble breathing or wheezing that is not well-controlled by asthma medications
- Unusual sleepiness or confusion
- A stiff neck and a fever
- A cut that won’t stop bleeding
- A broken bone
- Tightness in chest or pain
- Elevated blood pressure with other symptoms, such as chest pain or severe headache
- Drug overdose
- A head injury with vomiting, sleepiness, fainting or seizure
- An eye injury
- A serious burn
- At risk of harming themselves or others
When to NOT visit an emergency department:
- Need a COVID-19 test
- Don’t feel well but can manage symptoms with over-the-counter medications
- Elevated blood pressure without other symptoms
- Runny nose/cough without trouble breathing
- Fever with mild symptoms
- Muscle soreness or backaches
- Minor cuts or scrapes
- Nausea or diarrhea without abdominal pain
For more information about RSV, the flu and COVID-19, go to publichealthalerts.delaware.gov.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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