Alaskan health officials say they are monitoring a modest rise in RSV, but it’s nothing like the Lower 48


Using indirect immunofluorescence microscopy, this photomicrograph revealed the presence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in an unidentified tissue sample. (Dr. Craig Lyerla / CDC)

Alaskan health officials say they are monitoring a modest increase in cases of some respiratory viruses, but, so far, it’s nothing like what other states are experiencing.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, an Alaska state epidemiologist, said respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is among the viruses on the rise.

“It’s not as blunt as what we’re seeing in the Lower 48,” he said. “But we expect the rates to continue to rise quite steadily here in Alaska.”

In the Lower 48, a surge in RSV has left some pediatric hospitals at or near their maximum in cities like Washington, DC, Fort Worth, Texas and Seattle. The virus causes cold-like symptoms in most people, but can have more serious effects on children and the elderly. RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes 14,000 deaths nationwide each year among people aged 65 and over.

In Alaska, McLaughlin said the “very precipitous” increase in RSV cases below 48 was reflected in a smaller increase in Alaska cases.

“I think it’s probably a harbinger of what’s going to happen just knowing that there is such high activity happening in the Lower 48 right now,” he said.

Spokespeople for two hospitals in Anchorage, Providence and Alaska Regional, said they are still not seeing anything out of the ordinary with RSV.

McLaughlin said Alaska does not currently require laboratory reporting of RSV cases, so detailed infection data is not available. What the state health department knows, he said, is that about six communities across the state, including Anchorage, Fairbanks Juneau, and Ketchikan, have reported cases of RSV so far this season, with the majority of hospitalizations in Anchorage, Australia. Mat-Su district or in southeastern Alaska.

He said more cases of RSV have been reported in adults than in young children so far, which worries state officials because of its deadly effects among the elderly. The virus is also more easily transmitted between adults and children, because large droplets coughed or exhaled by infected people can contaminate surfaces.

“This is not a disease of children alone,” McLaughlin said.

Symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, cough, sneezing, fever, and loss of appetite. Children can seem irritable, McLaughlin said.

Vaccines for RSV are under development, McLaughlin said, but are not yet publicly available. State officials have recommended that children at high risk of RSV be given doses of the monoclonal antibody palivizumab this season, which reduces the risk of hospitalization if they contract the virus.

Influenza rates are also on the rise in Alaska, as the lower 48 cases rise on the south and east coasts.

About 105 cases of the flu have been reported by labs across the state since September, according to McLaughlin. The state’s latest weekly flu snapshot shows an increase in flu activity in Anchorage, Juneau, and northwest Alaska, reflecting what it lists as “low levels of activity, but more than we’ve seen in the last few. seasons right now “.

Lab tests of this year’s flu vaccine suggest it’s a good match against this year’s more common strain, McLaughlin said. He said it’s an early flu season for Alaska and a good time to get vaccinated.

“So I actually got my flu shot last week,” McLaughlin said. “So now is a really good time to get the flu shot. If you haven’t already.”

COVID-19 activity has seen a general decline in the United States, despite a spate of cases in Germany, France and Austria caused by its omicron variant BA.5. McLaughlin said the bivalent booster now available in much of Alaska is strong against the variant.

“And so again, another good reason for people who haven’t received that dual booster yet and want to do it, but were waiting for the right time to do it,” McLaughlin said.

As with all respiratory diseases, McLaughlin recommended that steps be taken to prevent their spread. These include covering up coughs and sneezing, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and avoiding direct contact with infected people or frequently touched surfaces.

Providers of COVID-19 and influenza vaccines can be found throughout Alaska and the nation on the federal website vaccinis.gov.

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