Marc Johnson, a researcher at the University of Missouri, says he's part of a team closely monitoring sewer water to determine whether a new strain of COVID-19 takes hold during the holiday season. (Kansas Reflector screen capture from KU Health System's Facebook channel)

Kansas health experts monitor COVID-19 trifecta, influenza and RSV as holiday season approaches

TOPEKA – Physicians and public health researchers predict that an increase in COVID-19 infection during the holiday months would complicate the medical response to the growing prevalence of influenza and a delicate influenza virus.

The trifecta of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, could lead to escalating health problems and hospitalizations this winter as precautionary measures such as vaccinations, masking and isolation are reduced in 2022 In the winter of 2021-2022, Kansas saw an increase in Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” said Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control at the University of Kansas Health System.

Hawkinson said there was a two to four week lag between infection and hospitalization for COVID-19, and urged Kansans to be vaccinated and fortified to protect themselves from the most dangerous aspects of the virus.

Since COVID-19 first spread to Kansas in March 2020, the state has documented nearly 900,000 cases. The true number is believed to be higher as testing for the virus has declined. Eighteen counties in Kansas have reported more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19, with Johnson County’s 171,000 cases and Sedgwick County’s 164,000 cases contributing more than a third of the state’s total.

The The latest report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment showed that 9,657 deaths in Kansas had been associated with COVID-19 during the pandemic. The Kansas figure included 2,613 deaths in 2022.

Dana Hawkinson, a health system physician at the University of Kansas, said the flu season combined with COVID-19 and a difficult flu virus could make it harder for hospitals to deal with an increase in the number of patients. (Kansas Reflector screenshot from KU Health System Facebook channel)

Risks of reinfection

Nathan Bahr, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said there was cause for concern over research findings indicating that people who get COVID-19 multiple times are more likely to get sick. erode organ function. He compared it to someone who repeatedly injured their leg and eventually suffered a fracture.

“The more this happens, the more you risk losing your function,” he said.

Washington University in St. Louis said analysis of medical records of 5.4 million Veterans Administration patients suggested that people who contracted COVID-19 more than once were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who caught the virus once time. Additionally, the researchers said the risks to kidney, lung, and gastrointestinal health were higher in those who were infected multiple times.

Amber Schmidtke, chair of natural sciences and mathematics at the University of Saint Mary at Leavenworth, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed Kansas in the second highest of five categories in terms of health. incidence of influenza not requiring hospitalization. The flu-like symptoms considered in the CDC’s analysis were fever, cough and sore throat.

The The CDC produced a color-coded map this put Kansas in the “high” level and Missouri in the “moderate” range for influenza. Flu-like symptoms were highest in the states of South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia.

“This year, the intensity is so high, especially in the South, that the CDC had to add a new color to the very high category,” Schmidtke said on the KU Health System broadcast.

She recommended people get the flu shot and get the COVID-19 shot. However, no RSV vaccine is available in the United States.

Amber Schmidtke, chair of the division of natural sciences at the University of Saint Mary at Leavenworth, said the CDC reports that Kansas has a high incidence of flu-like symptoms among non-hospitalized people, while Missouri has a moderate level of fever, cough and sore throat.  symptoms.  (Kansas Reflector screenshot from KU Health System Facebook channel)
Amber Schmidtke, of the University of Saint Mary at Leavenworth, said the CDC reports that Kansas has a high incidence of flu-like symptoms among non-hospitalized people, while Missouri is in the moderate range. (Kansas Reflector screenshot from KU Health System Facebook channel)

Sewage search

Marc Johnson, a professor of microbiology at the University of Missouri and a researcher with the Missouri Wastewater Program to Track the Changing Nature of COVID-19, said the ability to detect emerging strains of the virus has been honed over the past two last years. The holiday season is an opportune time for the virus to spread and evolve with people in confined spaces, he said.

“Last year and the year before, it was about now that we started seeing bloodlines. We started to see the numbers go up,” Johnson said.

He said the surge in the delta and the emergence of Omicron had produced a “harsh winter”.

“Fortunately,” Johnson said, “we’re getting a lot of new variants and none of them are doing what Delta did or what Omicron did. With Delta, it was really amazing, because we could see it move across the state.

In response to a question about whether heavy rain led to misleading conclusions about the concentration of COVID-19 in sewage samples, Johnson said the solution was also to test for the presence of caffeine. The numbers can be compared to the common occurrence of the coffee component, he said.

Its research partner in COVID-19 testing, Chung-Ho Lin of the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, stated that wastewater was an important resource for assessing the health of a community.

“Wastewater never lies,” Lin said. “Give us 15 milliliters of water, and we can tell you a lot of stories.”

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