What viruses are spreading in Connecticut? COVID, flu, RSV, rhinovirus numbers rising
Respiratory virus season has arrived in Connecticut, and while COVID cases have not notably spiked, the state has begun to see increased transmission of other illnesses, as well, state data shows.
According to an online dashboard maintained by Connecticut's Department of Public Health, respiratory syncytial virus, which often affects young children, has surged in recent weeks, with more than 1,000 recorded cases since Nov. 5 and four deaths during that time.
Last year, RSV arrived in Connecticut earlier and more intensely than usual, straining children's hospitals not used to treating so many patients at once. Transmission this year has been far less dramatic — but still a challenge for providers.
"We're very busy, no doubt about it," said Dr. Juan Salazar, physician-in-chief at Connecticut Children's Medical Center. "But the kids — we're managing them, and they seem to be a little bit less sick than last year."
Connecticut Children's in Hartford saw 73 RSV patients last week and is currently over capacity in its emergency department, a spokesperson said, though Salazar said the influx has been "manageable."
At Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, Dr. Thomas Murray reported a similar trend.
"We have seen an increase in the number of children hospitalized for RSV over the last two weeks or so, averaging around 10 to 14 children in the hospital with RSV at any one time," said Murray, the hospital's associate medical director for infection prevention. "So it's increased compared to earlier in the fall, but nothing compared to what we saw last year."
Murray said the lower RSV numbers as compared to a year ago could owe to immunity built up from infection during last fall's surge, as well as to new antibodies given to babies when they're born.
"So many kids had it last year that I think a lot of them will have some immunity and some protection," he said.
In addition to RSV, influenza has begun to spread as well, state data shows, with about 150 recorded cases and 11 hospitalizations last week. The state has so far recorded one flu-related death this fall.
Rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, has also spread rapidly, sometimes landing patients in the hospital, Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare, said Thursday.
"The rhinovirus is a part of this respiratory season at this point and probably the most predominant virus that we see," Wu said. "Luckily, it doesn't really have as much mortality and morbidity, but it's kind of like the fifth Beatle that everybody has forgotten about, but that's causing a lot of the outpatient symptoms."
As for COVID-19, hospitalizations have been roughly steady in recent weeks, after rising in August and September. During the week ending Nov. 11, the state had 201 COVID-related hospital admissions, up from 181 the seven days prior.
COVID cases have shown a similar pattern, though that data is considered highly imprecise due to the popularity of at-home tests whose results are never reported to the state. Wastewater analysis from Yale University researchers shows COVID spread in New Haven has increased slightly in recent weeks, but remains lower than this time last year.
That doesn't mean, Wu said, that Connecticut won't see a wave of the disease this winter, as it has each year since the pandemic first hit.
"The number will creep up," Wu said. "I think it's going to remain flat, maybe increase a little bit, and then jump up in January or February."
Still, Wu said he expects Hartford HealthCare — and the state as a whole — to avoid worst-case scenarios.
"Our hospitals are certainly ready for surge" capacity, he said. "But I don't think we're going to have to do that."
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