Cold weather has arrived and with it often comes a surge in respiratory illnesses.
This year is no different, but health officials are offering a variety of ways to slow down the spread of COVID, flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which pose the greatest health risks to the local population.
“Those are the ones that pose the most risk for people to end up in the hospital,” said Crook County Public Health Director Katie Plumb. “They also pose the most risk to people who either have compromised immune systems or are our really young population or our elderly population.”
Regional hospital data seems to support this. In the last four weeks, 50 or more people age 65 and older went to the emergency room with a flu-like illness, at least 10 more than any other age group.
Plumb said the community could see an early flu season if Central Oregon follows last year’s trend. In 2022, cases rose sharply around this time and peaked in mid to late December.
“It looks like we are trending upward about a week earlier than last year,” she said, “but it really is hard to say because the number of people who get vaccinated and when they get vaccinated will really influence the spikes in illness.”
COVID is not as easy to predict. Plumb notes that the virus is still evolving, so there is a little bit of unknown regarding how severe someone is going to respond when they become sick with the virus.
“However, what we are seeing as far as hospitalization data and fatality data is that because of immunization efforts and improved treatments for COVID, it is leveling off a bit as far as the severe health outcomes for the population,” Plumb stated. “There is definitely still significant concern for people who have compromised immune systems or are really young or elderly.”
For COVID and flu, the prevention options are similar. Vaccination is recommended to help prevent severe illness from either virus. Public health officials also encourage good hand-washing habits, staying home from work or school when sick and wearing a mask whenever you have to go out in public while sick or contagious.
“With any respiratory illness, masking does help reduce risk,” Plumb said.
Vaccination is not a prevention option for RSV, but a monoclonal antibody treatment is available to people who are at risk for severe illness because of the virus. Nirsevimab is a preventative, long-lasting antibody treatment available to immune compromised people as well as children and the elderly.
“It has been a little hard to get access to it. It is in short supply,” Plumb acknowledged, “but there are providers in Central Oregon that have it.”
While vaccination and good hygiene habits are the most recommended prevention tools, Plumb added some other suggestions that will help people throughout the upcoming fall and winter seasons. Eating well and getting good sleep can limit the severity of illness.