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Pima County seeing sharp rise in RSV, flu cases

Pima County seeing increased rates of influenza, RSV and COVID-19. Health officials say getting a flu shot can help slow down the spread of the virus.

Pima County is seeing significant increases in the number of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus cases normally occurring at this time of year just as cases of COVID-19 are also rising here again.

RSV, as it’s commonly called, is transmitting at about 10 to 11 times the number typically seen at this time of year here, compared to a five-year average. Influenza cases are about five times higher than the five-year average, and are also peaking earlier than usual, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the county’s health director.

Over the next six to eight weeks in particular, Cullen said, people should be doing what they can to protect themselves and others, particularly babies and young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems and chronic health conditions.

Typically, babies under six months of age are the most common RSV patients seen in hospitals but this year, admissions include many toddlers and pre-school children, up to age four, as well as some elderly patients.

“The vast majority of people that are being admitted to the hospital are young, less than five years old. However, at the same time we are seeing people admitted not just with RSV but also with influenza and, obviously, with COVID,” Cullen said. “Remember, all of these diseases put you at risk for morbidity or serious disease, based on your age.”

COVID-19 cases have increased by about one-third over the last week and are now at about 167 to 170 cases per 100,000 people in the county. The transmission level is still considered mild and will stay that way unless, or until, cases reach 200 per 100,000 residents here. The positivity rate is currently high, at about 16%-20%.

The county’s high vaccination rate has helped keep COVID-19 cases from jumping as quickly here as they have elsewhere in the country at this time, Cullen said.

However, she said: “We know that December and January have not been kind to Pima County in terms of COVID. I have no reason to anticipate that’s not going to happen again.”

People are urged to wash their hands often, ventilate indoor spaces whenever possible if groups are gathering, to vaccinate against influenza and COVID-19, and stay home if sick. There is not yet a vaccine available for RSV.

Masking can impede or decrease the risk of a person contracting a respiratory disease, Cullen said, or sharing it with others.

Several respiratory illnesses in children are circulating, and more children are going to the hospital for them.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 520-235-0308 or pmachelor@tucson.com.


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