If it’s not COVID or the flu, what am I sick with?

Coronavirus

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Despite COVID-19’s positivity rate declining and flu cases being minimal this year, many are still feeling sick.

This has left many wondering, what illness do I have?

Dr. Scott Stienecker, the Medical Director of Epidemiology and Infection Prevention at Parkview Health, said you could have caught the Human Rhinovirus or Enterovirus, which is a common viral infectious agent in humans and is the predominant cause of the common cold.

There’s also been rising amounts of Parainfluenza Virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and Adenovirus. He said all of the viruses are very similar in terms of their symptoms.

“[The viruses are] causing upper respiratory congestion, runny nose stuffy nose, coughing, fever,” said Dr. Stienecker. “Some of them are more likely to cause some associated neurologic problems, numbness and Palsy and other kinds of things, versus others that are more likely to go down into the lungs and cause a lot more shortness of breath.”

With these viruses on the rises, testing is, too. Doctors perform tests through a process where a swab is put in a patient’s nose, which is then tested for 22 different organisms to see whether or not one of those germs is present. The 22 germs include the ones that are listed as the most common causes of of pathogens, not including pneumonia and respiratory tract infections.

This data is compiled from all hospitals across the United States.

This data is compiled from all hospitals across the United States.

“The point I want to make here is, if you look back a year and you look back at March, the number of respiratory infections dropped like a rock,” said Dr. Stienecker. “The key ones there, influenza being in the green, virtually disappeared into just a thin ribbon of transmissions and that existed throughout the summer and then as we headed into into typical December through March flu season.”

He said this is simply because the COVID safety protocols work.

“On March 19, [2020], we implemented masking and social distancing and lockdown and hand washing,” said Dr. Stienecker. “The things that we do to block transmission of COVID have been highly, highly effective at blocking the transmission of influenza.”

According to Dr. Stienecker, the reason that the Adenovrius, Rhinovirus and Enterovirus didn’t disappear to the same degree is because they’re “far more surface-related.”

“I have a contaminated surface, I touch that surface, I picked it up, touch my nose, my mouth,” said Dr. Stienecker. “So, although it was suppressed to a degree, it just didn’t have the same degree of suppression that the other viruses did.”

According to the chart, in influenza A and influenza B’s peak in 2020 the rate was about 17%. In 2021, that number was only 0.7% at it’s peak— nearly a 16% drop.

Dr. Stienecker said the two influzena’s aren’t “hugely different.” In general, influenza A is typically the one that we worry about, since it has a higher death rate than influenza B.

In its worst cases, if you have virus’s such as the Adenovrius, Rhinovirus and Enterovirus could have trouble breathing or experience blue lips or fingertips. Dr. Stienecker said anyone experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor.

“If it’s one of these viral infections and it turns out that you don’t look that sick, then we know that it’s safe to send you home, and we don’t need to put you on antibiotics,” said Dr. Schienecker. “Whereas if it turns out that the test is negative, then we have a far higher concern for either a bacterial infection or congestive heart failure or some underlying lung problems that would require perhaps a completely different treatment.”

In terms of how deadly these viruses are, Dr. Schienecker said that COVID-19 has the highest death rate at around 2%. Influzena’s death rate is between 0.5 and 0.7% at its worst.

“We’ll typically see some deaths in adults from RSV and parainfluenza, a small number of people typically over the age of 65 commonly over the age of 75 that have underlying heart and lung disease on top of it,” said Dr. Schienecker.

So what can we expect for the 2022 flu season? Dr. Schienecker said he expects “history to repeat itself.”

“This same pattern has occurred, year after year after year, with the exception of everybody masking and handwashing and whatnot,” Dr. Schienecker. “What I expect to see this year is people to look at this data and say you know that stuff works and this year instead of having my snotty nose co worker come to work, with their kids all sick, maybe they work from home, if they’re able to do so.”

He also recommends that people continue to wear a mask during next cold and flu season and use sanitizer wipes and hand gel because of their effectiveness of eliminating the virus.

“[It’s] not just because they might kill me but because they’re gonna make me sick and feel miserable, and it’s completely avoidable,” said Dr. Schienecker.

The link to the Respiratory Pathogens Trends chart can be found here.

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