MISSOULA — Sickness season is getting closer. With RSV, flu, colds, and COVID, there’s a lot out there that can get you feeling under the weather.

“So, recently, just in the last few weeks, we are definitely seeing more cases of COVID than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Cindy Farr, Health Promotion Director for Missoula Public Health.

Farr also supervises infectious disease transmission and public health. She told MTN Missoula Public Health gets their numbers of COVID cases in the area from self-reported calls and also by monitoring group living settings where entire homes get sick more easily.

Farr said that there’s been talk of a new COVID omicron variant, BA 2.86. “Right now we’re seeing it in about 6 different countries. We’ve only had a couple of cases in the United States. We have not had any cases in Montana so far but we definitely are keeping an eye out on this strain," said Farr.

The genetic makeup of BA 2.86 looks a bit different than previous Omicron ones.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported,

"BA.2.86 is a newly designated variant of SARS-CoV-2 that has a number of additional mutations compared with previously detected Omicron variants. Specifically, the genetic sequence of BA.2.86 has changes that represent over 30 amino acid differences compared with BA.2, which was the dominant Omicron lineage in early 2022... The large number of mutations in this variant raises concerns of greater escape from existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections compared with other recent variants."

CDC, August 23, 2023

Farr explained, “No cause for worry yet, but we do want to keep reminding people of all the things that we did to try to prevent COVID in the past.”

Pulmonologist and Critical Care Physician with Community Medical Center, Eric Feucht detailed these preventative measures. “People should be up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations as well as following routine health precautions like hand washing, and following the guidance of the local health authorities.”

Dr. Feucht told MTN that some are more at risk of getting sick than others. “Those who have preexisting lung disease, or multiple medical problems are at the highest risk for getting COVID and severe COVID illnesses.” Additionally, those who are immune compromised, older, or very young, are also at risk.

He continued, “If someone is concerned about their COVID-risks or whether they’ve been exposed, they can always seek advice from their primary care physician. If they are feeling short of breath or are having trouble breathing, they should seek attention in the emergency room,”

Dr. Feucht explained that the emergency room is a safe place to come for COVID concerns and that Community Medical Center has 24/7 staff ready to help.

Even though the new variant is still being researched and has a low number of cases, Farr's main point was that COVID-19 is more serious than a cold or the flu. “We really want people to take precautions and know that COVID can have long-term effects."

Farr also shared that it is possible to get RSV, flu, and COVID-19 at the same time. Being diligent about health practices can keep you safe.

MCCHD said a new vaccine is in the works but there isn’t a timeline for when it’ll be available just yet.

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