CDPHE warns Colorado of heightened virus threat – by Ark Valley Voice Staff

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Colorado is responding to the surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospitalizations and outbreaks, helping coordinate hospitals to plan for possible additional cases, and sharing information on how to reduce the spread of the virus statewide. The concern is that a “trifecta” of viruses — COVID-19, RSV and a more severe strain of flu — are creating an early and increased risk of illness this winter, particularly for children and those over 65.

As of last Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) was sending text and email reminders to about 517,000 Coloradans age 65 and older whose records in the Colorado Immunization Information System show they may be due for their annual flu vaccine. State health officials are working to increase flu vaccine uptake nationwide as this flu season could be more severe than it has been in years.

COVID tests. Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Health care providers, including primary care and especially pediatrics, can play an active role in helping families identify the best ways to help children with RSV, including home care and when a child is in the clinic, in emergency care, or in the Emergency room should be seen. During respiratory disease season, cases are appearing earlier than usual. CDPHE helps coordinate hospitals as they anticipate the possibility of more cases.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that spreads through inhalation or contact with virus-containing droplets (typically through the mouth, nose, or eyes) produced by a person with RSV infection when speaking, coughing, and sneezing. While most people who get RSV only have symptoms of the common cold, it can be more severe in infants and young children, as well as older adults. Symptoms may include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing or coughing, as well as fever, decreased appetite, and difficulty breathing or wheezing. RSV causes respiratory disease in people of all ages, but infants, young children, and older adults are at greater risk of severe RSV disease. This virus is typically more common in late fall, winter, and early spring.

Children currently account for 95 percent of RSV hospitalizations. Additionally, CDPHE has seen a sharp increase in reported RSV outbreaks in childcare and school settings, with 42 confirmed outbreaks reported since October 1, 2022. In more than half of these outbreaks, at least one person involved in the outbreak has sought help at a hospital.

CDPHE frequently communicates with K-12 schools, preschool programs, and child care facilities to provide information about RSV, including strategies to reduce transmission. Since early October, CDPHE has shared resources such as the updated 2022-23 Guidance for Prevention & Control of Non-COVID-19 Respiratory Illnesses in Schools and Child Care Settings, How Sick is Too Sick Tool, and Infectious Disease in School and Child Care Settings.

CDPHE staff are also available for consultations with schools, childcare providers and our local public health partners to discuss resources and mitigation strategies for RSV and other infectious diseases. In addition, CDPHE sent out a Health Alert Network message to healthcare providers today. The Health Alert Network’s message was aimed at raising awareness of these providers about the rise in RSV in order to increase awareness of the rise in RSV in Colorado and the possible symptoms of RSV infection.

Day care centers and schools can also play an active role in preventing the spread by increasing hand washing, disinfecting surfaces and areas, and strictly adhering to and implementing their disease policies.

Hospitals report that an increase in RSV cases is straining the state’s pediatric hospital system. The state coordinates all hospitals to protect hospital capacity. As of October 1, 2022, there have been 292 RSV-associated hospitalizations in the Denver metropolitan area (Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson counties) and 42 outbreaks statewide. That is more than twice as much as in the same period in 2021.

“The increase in RSV-related hospitalizations in Colorado over the past few weeks is considered worrying. While there are now vaccines for influenza and CVOID-19, there is still no vaccine for RSV.

“Children with RSV can develop wheezing, poor feeding and dehydration, which can lead to hospitalization. If your child isn’t getting better, checking in with your family doctor or pediatrician can help to keep your child out of the hospital,” said Dr. Eric France, pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer of CDPHE.

“The CDPHE has issued a Health Action Network message to all healthcare providers, and the CDPHE is supporting hospital coordination as they plan for the possibility of more cases,” said Dr. France. “We have learned a lot about how to respond and coordinate effectively as a state, but everyone has to play their part. Practicing good hand hygiene and staying home when you are sick can help slow the transmission of RSV and most viruses.”

Coloradans can help reduce RSV transmission in several ways:

  • Stay home when you are sick, including visiting or interacting with people who may be at higher risk, including older adults, young children and infants.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Encourage children to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or an upper arm sleeve when they cough or sneeze, discard the tissue after use and clean hands as above.
  • Clean potentially contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, handrails, etc.
  • Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  • If your child is showing early signs of shortness of breath, you should take them to your GP for a check-up.

Coloradans can find more information about Colorado RSV rates at CDPHE’s website.