Flu, respiratory viruses keeping already stressed health workers busy

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Health officials in Springfield say their hopes for another mild flu season have not been met, as cases have increased dramatically over the past few weeks. Statewide, Missouri is reporting widespread influenza for the first time this flu season.

With flu and several other respiratory viruses going around in the community, in addition to COVID-19, it can be difficult to distinguish them from one another, since they all have similar symptoms, says Dr. Nancy Yoon, the Chief Medical Officer for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “There are several respiratory viruses, of course, there’s always the common cold, there’s also RSV, influenza, parainfluenza,” Yoon says.  “It can be challenging to really differentiate an exact diagnosis or a cause of a person’s infection because there is a lot of overlap.”   

Yoon says there are some ways to distinguish what’s making you feel sick. Any respiratory infection brings most people shortness of breath or a cough. Fever, body aches, and extreme fatigue are signs it’s something more than allergies or the common cold. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.

“We do have strategies that can prevent the spread of COVID and other respiratory infections, but I think this point in the pandemic people have just gotten tired of doing that, it may be difficult for them to do so in their workplace or their home environment,” Yoon said, adding it’s still important to stay home from school or work if you’re sick, practice physical distancing, wear masks, and avoid large groups.

Yoon says a busy flu season will add stress to our local hospitals, which are already feeling the strain from another spike in COVID-19 cases.  “At this point, we are seeing a sharp increase in the number of cases of COVID as well as hospitalizations and because of that, the hospitals are starting to feel the strain of their resources being drained of health care workers and supplies and just beds in the hospital. That could lead to some downstream effects of people not getting the care that they need or having more delays.” 

She says it’s likely the Springfield area will see a large number of cases of all respiratory infections in the coming weeks, advising “The more that we can go in and get tested, the more we can understand how much we’re seeing in the community and how quickly it’s spreading.”

The CDC has guidance on its website about the differences between the flu and COVID-19.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says flu vaccination is particularly important for people at high risk: children five and younger, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. The state also says COVID-19 and flu vaccines can be given at the same time.

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