Not just COVID-19: Respiratory illnesses up across DC region

A look at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows doctor visits for respiratory illnesses are in the “high” range in D.C. and Maryland, and the “very high” range in Virginia.

“Some of that is driven by influenza, but there are a lot of other respiratory viruses that are also increasing at this time of year, all of which contribute to that general high activity of people getting sick,” Dr. Andrew Pekosz, professor of microbiology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in an interview with WTOP.

However, he added, “It looks like influenza is increasing at the fastest rate among the respiratory viruses out there right now.”

See a map of respiratory activity throughout the US:

(Courtesy CDC)

A recent COVID-19 variant, the JN.1 variant, has been driving the increase in COVID cases. But there is some encouraging news, said Pekosz.

“We do think the vaccine will provide protection against the JN.1 variant, particularly when it comes to severe disease.”

It’s not too late to get vaccinated against the flu, RSV or COVID-19, said Pekosz.

“If you get a vaccine now, it should give you protection for the tail end of this respiratory viral season,” he said.

For patients suffering with coughs, congestion and other respiratory symptoms, it can be baffling to try to figure out which virus is causing the misery.

Pekosz suggested getting tested so that antivirals can be prescribed, if appropriate.

“You’ll have to go to your pharmacy or your medical doctor to get the test to know if you’re infected with RSV or influenza. It’s not as easy as it is with COVID-19,” Pekosz said.

As flu season continues, Pekosz was asked if mask mandates could make a return. He said that’s possible in some settings.

“You know hospitals, nursing home facilities, they have a really high density of people who are susceptible to very severe outcomes with respiratory infections,” Pekosz said.

In order to both prevent infection and to avoid spreading the flu or other respiratory illnesses, Pekosz recommends getting vaccinated, staying home when sick, and “particularly if you’re in a high risk group for severe infections,” he said using a good, form-fitting mask when out in public can be very helpful.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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