Caiden Bishop swabs her nose for a COVID-19 test at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 31. While COVID-19 cases have dropped in Utah in March, other respiratory illnesses are now making people sick. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY – While COVID-19 cases have dropped in Utah this month, other respiratory illnesses are now making people sick. That could cause confusion for some people because doctors with Intermountain Healthcare expected the sniffing and sneezing to continue for a few weeks.

A year ago, COVID-19 dominated respiratory illness in our communities, and the health precautions most people took helped them avoid other illnesses, but the flu and the head colds are back.

"A lot of people are talking about colds going around work, or things getting shared around families," said Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatric hospitalist at University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital.

That's what they're seeing at the hospital, too, he said. Plus, COVID-19 is not gone yet.

"We're still seeing, obviously, a steady trickle of that because it's still in our neighborhoods, and it's still in our communities," he said.

If you think you have COVID-19, Gesteland said get tested, especially if you are at high risk. Meantime, other respiratory viruses are moving in.

"Kind of a late respiratory season rally and starting to make people sick again," he added.

Seasonal influenza is rising again after previously peaking around the new year. That information is easily found on GermWatch by Intermountain Healthcare which provides the latest surveillance of illnesses going around in Utah.

Gesteland helped create GermWatch 20 years ago.

"We're watching that (influenza) pretty closely because it's still marching up and doesn't seem to have peaked just yet," Gesteland said. "Influenza, as you know, can look a little bit, or a lot like COVID with a fairly rapid onset of congestion, fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, and can make you feel pretty miserable."

The flu is not showing any signs of waning, yet.

"I don't know how much higher it's going to go. But, I know it's going to last for several weeks because we're not over the hump of that second peak."

Metapneumovirus, which shows up with mild cold-like symptoms is also circulating on the Wasatch Front. That virus can cause cough, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and fever. Some infections cause vomiting, diarrhea, and breathing problems. Symptoms develop three to five days after exposure.

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which can be especially dangerous for babies, surged around Thanksgiving.

"It looks like it's peaked and may be coming down. But I think we're expecting a steady drumbeat of various respiratory viruses for the next several weeks," the doctor said.

He said it's not too late to get a flu shot. With several viruses around, he said, it's a good idea to wash our hands regularly and stay home when we're sick.



Jed Boal

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