Respiratory virus season shows flu cases return amid rising COVID-19 numbers

Posted at 7:03 PM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 20:03:52-05

As people relax their approach to face masks and other prevention measures, hospitals are seeing more of a cross-section among respiratory virus infections.

Dr. Mary Beth Graham is the medical director of infection prevention and control at Froedtert Hospital.

"Last year, we had zero. Absolutely, zero hospitalizations for influenza last year. We've already had hospitalizations for influenza this year. So that's what's different and we still have COVID-19 unfortunately, leading to a number of hospitalizations," Dr. Graham said.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases and hospitalizations surged over summer, which was unusual. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services showed RSV cases dropping since September. Flu numbers are rising statewide with 428 confirmed cases in the most recent report, however, overall flu activity is still below the baseline.

Some people tell us this year they are more aware if they are feeling unwell and will avoid others, unlike past years when they may "push through" and still go to work and be around others.

"I think that if everybody was able to keep that mindset of everybody's going through the same thing, we're in this as a collective, I feel like that would be a great way to stay healthy for everybody," said Chris Gallego.

The trends come as mitigation efforts like masking fall by the wayside. Dr. Graham says masking is the big difference between previous years and now. She is worried about health systems getting overwhelmed by people with symptoms.

"It may deter others who are again at that high risk of not coming in to seek health care or trying to come in, and waiting rooms that are just overwhelmed and it taking a long time to get in," Dr. Graham said.

While flu, RSV, and COVID-19 share some similar symptoms, Dr. Graham said testing is the only way to determine what a patient is suffering from.