Cases of RSV, COVID-19, flu remain steady but still high across region

MADISON, Wis. — A new year often brings new beginnings, but for area healthcare systems, last year’s problems remain; namely, the “tripledemic” of COVID-19, RSV and the flu.

“It can be a challenge,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, an emergency medicine physician and chief quality officer for UW Health. “You know, so far we’ve we’ve kind of made it without having to do anything, you know, too crazy as far as staffing or where we’re placing patients, but not a lot of wiggle room for us there yet.”

Pothof said respiratory illnesses in our community have largely plateaued but have done so at a rate much higher than normal for this time of year.

When it comes to RSV, UW Health reports that cases remain steady, but still above average. For COVID-19, the number of hospital admissions is also stable, but Pothof noted an increase in employees calling out sick with it suggests our community may be seeing a bit higher prevalence of the virus. Meanwhile, flu cases have come down just a bit over the past few weeks, though the influx of patients remains similar to what it was last month.

Among the three viruses, even though the number of new cases remains steady, the sheer amount of patients is what’s straining healthcare systems.

“A lot of folks who get these respiratory illnesses, they don’t get severely ill,” Pothof said, “but with so many of them out there, even a small percent of people who get severely ill can result in hospital admissions. And that would be one thing if hospitals were relatively empty or weren’t struggling with volume, but right now, that is something that not only UW Health, but a lot of hospitals in the area are struggling with: just really high inpatient census.”

That high number of patients is also expected to rise as people now return home from holiday travel.

“For a lot of these individuals whose symptoms are milder to moderate, they might have made a go of it, likely infecting other folks at Christmas dinner or at the New Year’s Eve celebration,” Pothof said, “so we will likely see those cases increase, you know, anywhere from five to seven, maybe 10 days from now.”

Another factor driving this “tripledemic” is a lack of people getting a flu shot and COVID-19 booster, vaccinations that Dr. Pothof stressed not only protect oneself from sickness but also help busy healthcare systems.