Erie doctors have seen a lot of coughing, sneezing, sore throats and congestion in recent weeks.
Some of it is COVID-19, some of it is respiratory syncytial virus — better known as RSV — or other viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms, said Dr. Christopher Clark, Saint Vincent Hospital president and a family physician.
"Both RSV and the newer versions of COVID feature coughing, congestion and a sore throat, and we are seeing plenty of both," Clark said. "We usually see RSV a little later in the year, though we saw it in the summer last year. And we're heading into flu season as well."
Many local physician offices now offer a single test for COVID-19, RSV and flu. Though most people make full recoveries from these respiratory viruses without going to the hospital, Clark and other local health officials said it's important to get tested and know which virus is making you ill.
It's because COVID, RSV and flu can all cause certain people, especially older people and those with weakened immune systems, to develop serious illnesses. Also, physicians can prescribe antiviral medications once you're diagnosed.
"And with COVID, people still need to isolate for five days and wear a mask for five more if they test positive," said Charlotte Berringer, R.N., director of community health services for the Erie County Department of Health. "They don't have to isolate with the flu or RSV, but be kind to your friends and family and wear a mask if you have any respiratory symptoms."
RSV is particularly dangerous for infants younger than six months, who can develop bronchitis or pneumonia and require hospitalization. Clark said older adults with chronic illnesses are also susceptible to RSV complications.
"All these respiratory illnesses share symptoms, so it's important to get tested if you are sick," Berringer said.
COVID-19 cases dropped last week, but hospitalizations rose
Erie County's number of COVID-19 cases declined last week, but hospitalizations increased slightly as the virus shows no signs of going away as the weather gets colder and people spend more time indoors.
A total of 286 newly confirmed cases were reported in the county between Sept. 21-27, a decrease from 357 the previous week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported. The county's seven-day moving average of daily cases has remained between 54 and 70 since late July.
The monthly case totals from the county health department also showed the consistency this summer:
June — 1,386
July — 1,445
August — 1,938
September (through Sept. 25) — 1,533
The amount of coronavirus found in samples taken from the Erie Wastewater Treatment Plant has declined in recent weeks, the county health department reported, indicating fewer infections than earlier this summer. All variants found in the sampling are in the BA.5 family.
COVID-19 hospitalizations rose slightly last week, from a daily average of 24.7 between Sept. 14-20 to 26.1 between Sept. 21-27. The county's 14-day moving average of daily hospitalizations has remained between 20 and 36 since late July, according to the state health department.
A majority of those patients are admitted for other reasons and later test positive for COVID, but Clark said it shows why it's important to get the new COVID-19 vaccine booster that is now available.
"COVID isn't going away," Clark said. "The fear is that we will see new strains but at this point we are dealing with the strains (BA.4 and BA.5) that this new booster covers. People should get it, and they can get the booster and their flu vaccine at the same time."
COVID-19 and flu vaccines are available at most chain pharmacies and physician offices.
To receive COVID-19 vaccines at the LECOM Center for Health and Aging, visit lecom.eventbrite.org or call 814-812-9851. To make a vaccine appointment at Corry Memorial, call 814-664-4641, Ext. 1234.
If you want to receive a COVID-19 or flu vaccine from your UPMC Hamot or Saint Vincent provider, call their office or visit upmc.com/coronavirus/covid-vaccine or ahn.org/coronavirus/vaccine/schedule.html.
Here is a look at the county's other COVID-19 measurements between Sept. 14-20 and 21-27, according to the state health department:
The rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents declined from 132.4 to 106.
The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests dropped from 19.9% to 16.8%.
The average daily number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators rose from 1.4 to 1.6.
The percentage of emergency department visits due to COVID-19 symptoms increased from 1.2% to 2.2%.
Five county residents have died in September due to COVID-19 complications, compared to nine in August and six in July, the county health department reported. A total of 849 county residents has died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic started.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Cough, congestion and sore throats: Is it COVID-19, RSV or flu?