Kansas health experts are monitoring the COVID-19, flu and RSV trifecta as the holiday season approaches

TOPEKA — Physicians and public health researchers anticipate a surge in COVID-19 infections during the holiday months, increasing the spread of the flu and complicating the medical response to a difficult influenza virus.

The trifecta of COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, could cause health problems and hospitalizations this winter, as precautionary measures like vaccination, masking and isolation through 2022. In the winter of 2021–2022, Kansas experienced a surge in the Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” said Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control at the University of Kansas Health System.

Hoskinson said there was a two- to four-week lag between infection and hospitalization for COVID-19, and he urged Kansans to get vaccinated and promote protecting themselves from the most dangerous aspects of the virus.

Since COVID-19 spread to Kansas in March 2020, the state has documented nearly 900,000 cases. The actual number is believed to be higher as testing for the virus has stopped. Eighteen counties in Kansas reported more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19, with Johnson County’s 171,000 cases and Sedgwick County’s 164,000 cases contributing to more than a third of the state’s total.

The latest report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment showed 9,657 deaths in Kansas were linked to COVID-19 during the pandemic. Kansas’ figure included 2,613 deaths in 2022.

Dana Hoskinson, a physician at the University of Kansas Health System, said flu season combined with COVID-19 and a more challenging influenza virus could make it harder for hospitals to deal with the surge in patients. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from KU Health System’s Facebook channel)

risk of reinfection

Nathan Bahar, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said there is reason to be concerned about the research findings indicating that people who contract COVID-19 multiple times are at risk of organ function degradation. were susceptible to. He compared it to someone who repeatedly injured a leg and eventually suffered a fracture.

“The more times that happens, the more at risk you are for losing function,” he said.

Washington University in St. Louis said an analysis of the medical records of 5.4 million Veterans Administration patients suggested that individuals who contracted COVID-19 more than once had a higher risk of heart attack than those who caught the virus once. was twice as likely. In addition, the researchers said that kidney, lung and gastrointestinal health risks were higher among those infected at multiple times.

Amber Schmidtke, chair of natural sciences and mathematics at Saint Mary’s University in Leavenworth, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Kansas in the second-highest of five categories for influenza incidents that did not require hospitalization. Factoring into the CDC analysis were influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, and sore throat.

The CDC created a color-coded map that placed Kansas in the “high” level and Missouri in the “moderate” category on influenza. The states with the highest number of flu-like symptoms were South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia.

“The intensity is so high this year, especially in the South, that the CDC had to add a new color to the very high category,” Schmidtke said on a KU Health System broadcast.

He advised people to get both a flu shot and a COVID-19 booster. However, there is no vaccine available for RSV in the United States.

Amber Schmidtke, chair of the Natural Sciences Division at Saint Mary's University in Leavenworth, said the CDC reports that Kansas has a higher incidence of influenza-like symptoms among non-hospitalized people, while Missouri has a higher incidence of fever, cough and sore throat. The symptoms of soreness are moderate.  (Kansas Reflector screen capture from KU Health System's Facebook channel)
Amber Schmidtke of Saint Mary’s University in Leavenworth said the CDC reports that Kansas has a high incidence of influenza-like symptoms among non-hospitalized people, while Missouri is in the moderate range. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from KU Health System’s Facebook channel)

sewer water detector

Mark Johnson, a professor of microbiology at the University of Missouri and a researcher with Missouri’s wastewater program to track the shifting nature of COVID-19, said the ability to detect the emerging strain of the virus improved over the past two years Is. He said the holiday season is an opportune moment for the virus to spread and evolve with people in confined spaces.

“Last year and the year before that was exactly where we started seeing pedigree. We started seeing numbers going up,” Johnson said.

He added that the Delta rise and the emergence of Omicron created a “harsh winter”.

“Fortunately,” Johnson said, “we’re getting a lot of new variants and none of them are doing what Delta did or Omicron did. With Delta, it was really surprising, because We could see it moving through the state.”

In response to a question about whether heavy rains lead to misleading conclusions about the concentration of COVID-19 in wastewater samples, Johnson said the solution is to test for the presence of caffeine as well. The numbers can be compared to the regular presence of the ingredient in coffee, he said.

His research partner in the COVID-19 trial, Chung-Ho Lin of the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, said sewage was an important resource for assessing the health of a community.

“Wastewater never lies,” said Lin. “Give us 15 ml of water, and we can tell you many stories.”

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