If you’ve felt sick at any time over the past year and a half, COVID-19 was probably your main concern. But with the relaxation of public health measures in many places and more people traveling, a variety of other respiratory viruses are reappearing this fall.
Dr Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, said common respiratory viruses such as enterovirus and rhinovirus – which cause the common cold – have experienced low rates of transmission l last winter because of the physical distance and the wearing of a mask. But they started to circulate wider during the summer.“We have now completely changed the seasonality of these and reintroduced them to the population,” Chagla told Brian Goldman, host of White coat, black art and The dose. “We are seeing very atypical disease patterns that we have never seen before. “
It all means keeping an eye out for the return of some old and familiar illnesses.
The common cold, parainfluenza and the flu are back
With the kids back to school, expect even more enteroviruses and rhinoviruses in the coming weeks, Chagla said.
Parainfluenza, which he described as “a cousin of the flu”, reappeared in parts of Canada in July and August. Parainfluenza is caused by a different virus, but the symptoms are similar to the flu, including fever, cough, and sore throat.
Regarding the flu itself, Chagla said it’s hard to predict what kind of flu season Canada is gearing up for.
The flu season last year was almost non-existent due to COVID-19 measures. Canada usually gets a glimpse of the upcoming flu season by watching Australia and New Zealand during their winter. But those countries have seen low influenza activity again this year, likely due to lockdowns from COVID-19.
Places like Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America have seen more flu transmission in recent months, Chagla said, meaning Canada will likely see more flu this year too, but maybe not at pre-pandemic levels.
RSV, a concern for young children
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is another virus that is making a comeback, Chagla said.
“This is definitely a case where parents need to be vigilant,” he said, as this can lead to hospitalization for young children.
Wheezing, lethargy, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing are all signs that medical treatment is needed.
Pascal Lavoie, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Vancouver, said RSV is one of the most serious viruses for vulnerable infants.
He said cases were on the rise in eastern Canada and the United States. The lack of exposure to the virus over the past year is a concern, he said.
“People often ask, ‘Is our immune system weaker? “It’s not weaker, it’s just not as prepared to fight these viruses,” he said. “On that basis, we predict it will be a difficult winter. ”
Lavoie said careful hand hygiene and other protective measures against COVID-19 will help guard against RSV while waiting to see how far it spreads in Canada.
“Things are going to stabilize again, but as we move into this transition I think people need to be vigilant,” he said.
But that’s not all
Chagla said other illnesses returning this fall include the Norwalk virus, which causes diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It often improves very quickly, but can spread quickly through families and people living in nearby neighborhoods.
There have also been recent cases of West Nile virus, he said, which can lead to mild symptoms, flu-like syndrome, meningitis and encephalitis. Chagla said if symptoms are accompanied by confusion, headache or stiff neck, see a doctor.
Cases of Lyme disease have also been discovered in Canada in recent months, he said.
“Our appreciation for the outdoors has been great, but unfortunately that means a lot of people encounter these ticks wherever they are. “
Due to its similarity to COVID-19 and other viruses, it might be missed. Giving your doctor a detailed history of recent activity can help with the diagnosis, he said.
Wash your hands, stay home in case of illness
Unlike COVID-19, it’s quite common to get enteroviruses and rhinoviruses from contact with surfaces, so hand hygiene is more important than ever, Chagla said.
If you catch a cold, he advises you to stay home and wait for your symptoms to subside. Take a COVID test if you develop a fever and respiratory symptoms.
To avoid overloading the health care system, he also recommends getting the flu shot when available. Even those who aren’t as vulnerable will likely want to avoid the testing and isolation that comes with respiratory illnesses during the pandemic.
“The flu is not only a serious issue for some, but it is a boring issue for others in the context of COVID-19,” he said.
Most of the causes of respiratory tract infections are viral, but bacterial infections need antibiotics, he said. Prolonged illness may be a sign that a visit to the doctor is necessary. If symptoms persist for a week or more, or continue to worsen, Chagla said, it may be time to have a chest x-ray.
Written and produced by Rachel Sanders