What our pathology lab is seeing as respiratory virus cases increase in our community

Brad Ford, MD, PhD

As COVID-19 numbers continue to climb due to the more contagious delta variant, our pathology lab is as busy as ever processing tests. But as we enter flu season, what other viruses are we seeing circulate through our community? And how can we stay healthy during this time?

To find out, we spoke with Brad Ford, MD, PhD, clinical associate professor of Pathology and medical director, Clinical Microbiology, about what the UI Health Care pathology lab is currently seeing across its respiratory virus testing.

What types of viruses are we currently seeing in our community?

“In addition to COVID-19, we’re also seeing respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza, adenovirus, and common-cold viruses like rhinovirus, enterovirus, and non-SARS-CoV-2 (non-COVID-19) coronaviruses. RSV is especially prevalent and probably the most common virus right now besides COVID-19.”

Is this unusual given the time of year?

“Yes. We normally see respiratory viral activity starting in November, tapering down to background levels in about April. This season can shift a little earlier or later, but it’s very unusual to see respiratory viruses arrive in this quantity this early.”

When do we typically start seeing flu cases?

“There is hardly any influenza circulating yet, which presents a good opportunity to get ahead of it with the influenza vaccine. Influenza usually starts appearing in November, but the pattern of respiratory viral illness has been so unusual lately the arrival date of influenza cases will be hard to predict this year.”

How can we stay healthy during this time?

“In 2020, respiratory viruses of all kinds disappeared all at once in April with implementation of strict masking and social distancing and hardly returned at all last winter. Adherence to masking, social distancing, and getting vaccinated for influenza and COVID-19 will help keep everyone healthy.