Flu season strikes early

RSV cases also causing longer wait times for health care

AP photo A patient is given a flu vaccine at the L.A. Care and Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plans’ Community Resource Center where they were offering members and the public free flu and COVID-19 vaccines Oct. 28, 2022, in Lynwood, Calif. As Americans head into the late 2022 holiday season, a rapidly intensifying flu season is straining hospitals already overburdened with patients sick from other respiratory infections.

MARSHALL — A rise in seasonal illnesses like flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is putting a strain on emergency departments, the Minnesota Hospital Association said this week. It’s a situation that’s also making things busy for local health providers.

“Over the last few weeks we are seeing an uptick in RSV and influenza cases. It is more than usual for this time of year,” said Candice VanderPlaats, a certified nurse practitioner at Avera Medical Group and Access Health in Marshall. “In our region, we are seeing longer wait times in urgent care and primary care due to increased patient demand.”

In a Monday news release, the MHS said said cases of illnesses like RSV and influenza A and B are spiking sooner, faster and stronger than usual. At the same time, COVID-19 is still leading to some hospitalizations in Minnesota.

Taking steps to mitigate the spread of seasonal illnesses is needed now to ease the burden on hospital emergency departments, the MHA said.

“Minnesota’s hospitals and health systems are working together to coordinate the best care for Minnesotans when they need us,” said MHA CEO and President Rahul Koranne. “We plead with patients and families to be patient with their hospital and health system care teams who are doing their best to navigate these challenges. Providing high-quality care for every patient is their utmost priority.”

Both flu and RSV are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses. Influenza can cause mild to severe illness, and can cause symptoms like fever, cough, aches and fatigue. VanderPlaats said RSV causes cold-like symptoms, but it can also cause more serious infections like bronchiolitis — an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs — and pneumonia.

“It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than one year of age,” VanderPlaats said. “Some people with RSV infection, especially older adults and infants younger than six months of age, may need to be hospitalized if they are having trouble breathing or are dehydrated.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent weekly report on respiratory illnesses, a total of 439 Minnesotans had been hospitalized with influenza as of Nov. 12. Compared to the past few years, the number of flu hospitalizations is unusually high for this time in the fall, the report said.

The MDH also reported more than 180 hospitalizations for RSV in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area as of Nov. 12. Most of the reported hospitalizations were for infants and children age four and younger.

There are a number of things we can do to help slow the spread of illnesses like flu, RSV and COVID, VanderPlaats said. An important step is to stay home if you are sick, she said. People should also wash their hands, cover coughs, wear a mask, and get vaccinated. The MHA also asked members of the public to consider going to urgent care, a primary health provider, or using telehealth options for non-emergency care.

There is no vaccine for RSV, but there are vaccines for influenza and COVID, VanderPlaats said.

“Vaccines are the best way to prevent serious illness for yourself and loved ones,” she said. “They help you avoid infection and reduce your risk of developing serious, if not life-threatening, complications from these viruses.”

“If you have any questions or concerns regarding the vaccines, please reach out to your primary provider. They are more than happy to discuss this with you,” VanderPlaats said.

Flu shots are recommended every year for adults and children 6 months and older, the MHA said. COVID vaccine boosters are also recommended for adults and children 5 years and older, if it has been at least two months since their last vaccine dose. People who recently had a COVID infection may consider delaying their booster until three months after their first positive test, or when symptoms started, the MHA said.


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