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Respiratory Illnesses On The Upswing

By Deborah Clark Regional Editor

Cases of COVID and other respiratory illness have been trending upward in the Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler region, paralleling spikes across the state and country, and bringing back masking in area medical facilities.

Dr. Karen McColl, Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Health Meadows Hospital in Vidalia, said that high level transmissions for COVID necessitated a return to masking of employees, incoming patients and guests at Meadows. Mc-Coll said she will continue to track transmission rates and other data to assess when it might be safe to reprieve the masking requirement.

McColl said Meadows is also seeing an increase of patients with Type A and Type B continued from page

flu. Children coming into Meadows with respiratory syncytial virus or RSV — and the numbers at this point are not large — are being referred to area facilities specializing in pediatric care. Children aged one and under are at the highest risk for RSV, Mc-Coll said.

The numbers posted on the Georgia Department of Health’s online tracking chart (as of the latest report date of December 28) are not as alarming as those posted in the earlier pandemic, but warrant watching closely. In the past two weeks, Toombs reported 15 new cases; Montgomery reported 5 new cases; and Wheeler reported two new cases. Across the state a total of 8,299 new cases were recorded as of December 17-23.

The DPH identified both Toombs and Montgomery counties as emerging counties of interest in terms of the uptick in the number of cases, which were defined by the DPH as “moderately high.” In Toombs County, COVIDrelated emergency department visits accounted for 4% of the total visits between December 17 and 23. Community transmission rates were determined by the DPH to be high in Toombs County, substantial in Montgomery County, and low in Wheeler County.

It is believed that many of the cases of COVID go undetected and unreported, so these numbers are regarded as conservative or “underreported.” To complicate the situation, symptoms for COVID and other respiratory illness are similar, and without testing, the true nature of the illness cannot be confirmed.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 5.8 percent of outpatient visits now are due to respiratory illnesses whose symptoms include fever plus a cough or sore throat, well above the normal baseline of 2.5 percent. While COVID and RSV are still a concern, health experts are particularly focused on the increasing number of flu cases across the country.

According to the CDC, 31 jurisdictions in the United States, which includes states, major cities and territories, report a “very high” level of flu activity, and 16 report “high” levels. So far this season, the agency has reported: 8.7 million cases 78,000 hospitalizations 4,500 deaths There are four types of influenza viruses – A, B, C and D – but the strains that typically cause seasonal flu illness are influenza A and B. The CDC says influenza C primarily causes mild disease and influenza D is normally seen in cattle, not people.

Health experts said that this year’s flu vaccine is a good match for the three strains but the prevalence of all three strains at the same time is what accounts, at least in part, for why we’re having so much influenza. Not enough people are getting vaccinated against the flu. About 40% of children were vaccinated as of November 19 and about 36% of adults at the end of October, the latest data available from the CDC shows.

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