Winter returns, along with respiratory misery in Michigan. Here’s what to do
- Respiratory viruses — most notably RSV — are making a comeback, sending more Michigan children to the hospital
- That follows wild fluctuations in respiratory illnesses the past four years, alongside COVID
- At least one hospital has begun limiting visitors to children’s units
Michigan’s largest hospital system is seeing an increase in patients with colds and other respiratory illnesses, especially pediatric RSV, prompting it to limit visitors at several of its hospitals.
On Wednesday, two Corewell Health pediatricians said patients might expect busier emergency rooms and longer wait times for doctors’ appointments — something expected this time of year.
It’s a return to typical after three pandemic seasons of unpredictability that sometimes threatened to overwhelm doctors offices and hospitals, especially pediatric units.
- RSV vaccine available for older Michiganders, but many don’t know of it
- Nearly four years into COVID, Michigan’s autumn looking far more promising
- For the holidays: Another batch of COVID tests for Michiganders
After COVID first hit Michigan in March 2020, the state reported huge drops in seasonal flu circulation as the public sheltered in place and masked up, and then shocking surges in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, during the summer of 2021 and last fall.
On Wednesday, the Corwell doctors joined a chorus of other providers urging Michiganders to take common-sense precautions: stay home when sick, double down on hand-washing, and vaccinate against flu, COVID and RSV.
Curbing RSV’s spread
Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Avoid close contact — kissing, shaking hands, and sharing cups and eating utensils, for example.
Clean doorknobs, mobile devices and other surfaces that are frequently touched
“We always want to go back to basics: washing hands, staying home when you're sick, not going to crowded family gatherings, especially over the holidays if there's a vulnerable person or there's somebody actively ill with symptoms,” said Dr. Andrea Hadley, chief of the pediatric acute care division at Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.
Some experts predicted a more typical fall this year, and so far at least, they appear to be right, with a predictable return of respiratory illnesses, especially RSV.
“There may be longer wait times as well as patients being cared for in non-traditional areas or what we have had to do is put two patients to one room to be able to accommodate everybody and take care of everybody,” said Dr. Andrea Hadley.
Doctors and public health officials had hoped that the first approved RSV shots would blunt its impact this fall. The Food and Drug Administration this summer approved an RSV immunization for infants younger than 8 months who are born during — or who are entering — their first (RSV) season.
There are also RSV vaccines for adults over 60 and pregnant women at 32 to 36 weeks gestation during the RSV season — generally September to January. That protection for the mother could be passed on to babies.
It’s busy enough with RSV cases that Corewell is now limiting visitors to pediatric units at three hospitals in Southeast Michigan: Only two visitors for a patient under 21 are now allowed at Beaumont Hospitals in Dearborn, Royal Oak and Troy.
And things can change quickly, noted Katie Stanulis, a nurse practitioner at Sparrow Medical Group East Lansing, part of the Sparrow hospital system.
“In the last probably two weeks, I have seen PCR (test)-positive COVID and home-test-positive COVID and definitely an uptake in RSV,” she said.
While Michigan remains at “minimal spread” for flu, southern states are experiencing a “high” and even “very high” spread in cases that could drift northward with holiday travel.
Map here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm
Whether it’s a cold, flu, COVID, or RSV, symptoms often are the same, Stanulis said.
Depending on the severity of symptoms and their underlying conditions, some patients are tested, but — beyond specific treatments for COVID and flu — most respiratory viruses are treated only with time and measures to relieve symptoms, like drinking hot tea and honey and avoiding cold air, she said.
Antibiotics, she said she is constantly reminding patients, do not work against viruses that cause common cold and flu or COVID.
“When I tell people (it takes) a tincture of time, nobody likes to hear that,” Stanulis said.
Better, she said, to take precautions to avoid being sick in the first place.
Doctors at UP Health System in the Upper Peninsula also noticed a slight uptick in respiratory cases after Thanksgiving, but numbers have settled and appear typical for this time of the year, a spokesperson said.
The hospital urged several steps to avoid respiratory spread, including:
- Wear a face mask in indoor, public spaces
- Avoid touching your face
- Do not share food, cups or eating utensils
- Regularly disinfect your home and common surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, children’s toys and play areas
- Stay home from school or work if you are sick
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing with a tissue, your sleeve or elbow.
RSV symptoms usually appear four to six days after infection. Symptoms can appear in stages, rather than all at once, according to the CDC.
Call a health provider immediately if a child is having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or if symptoms worsen.
Among common RSV symptoms:
- runny nose
- decreased appetite
- In very young infants, irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties may be the only symptoms of RSV.
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