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Respiratory virus cases other than COVID-19 up in Wisconsin
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Respiratory virus cases other than COVID-19 up in Wisconsin

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Woman sneezing

Cases of non-COVID respiratory viruses are up in Wisconsin and higher than normal for June, especially among children, state health officials said Monday.

As the northern hemisphere is preparing to head into a warmer season, many people are wondering if coronavirus cases will drop like the flu or common cold.

Officials urged people with fever, cough and runny nose to stay home, wear face masks if in public and avoid high-risk settings such as day care centers, summer camps and nursing homes.

The uptick in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), parainfluenza and seasonal coronaviruses — not the one that causes COVID-19 — could lead to outbreaks as has happened in other states, said Tom Haupt, respiratory disease epidemiologist with the state Department of Health Services.

Wisconsin hospitals recently have reported seeing some 60 to 80 children with flu-like illness, many younger than 5 and some requiring intensive care, which is unusual for this time of year, Haupt said.

“Any of these viruses can cause illness ranging from very mild symptoms to severe illnesses including pneumonia,” he said. “These viruses can spread very quickly if they are introduced into a congregate setting like a long-term care facility or a day care center.”

RSV and seasonal coronaviruses typically circulate in late fall and winter, so activity now is unusual, Haupt said. Parainfluenza circulates in spring and early summer, but the current levels are abnormally high, he said.

People’s immune systems may not be protected against the viruses as much as usual because measures to control COVID-19 limited exposure to the other viruses the past year, he said.

“I’m hoping that it’s not because people are becoming complacent,” with COVID-19 cases declining, he said.

Vaccines and antiviral drugs aren’t available for the other viruses, as they are for COVID-19 and flu. Officials advised people to wash their hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when sick.

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